Photo by Marcie Pennington, (c) July, 2003. Courtesy of the Jasay family private collection.
“This baby looks so familiar,” my mother said every time she held my infant daughter. With her eyebrows drawn together in a confused look of concentration, she struggled to place what it was about my brown-skinned daughter with a head full of straight-as-a-board black hair snuggled in her arms that she should recognize. She thought about how my older three children looked at that age. Finding no resemblance there, she would muse that she really didn’t think the familiarity came from one of her other grandchildren either. “But, she looks so familiar.”
Fast forward nearly six years later. . .We were preparing a slide show for my parents’ Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary party. We searched my mother’s albums for photographs showcasing my parent’s years together. We finished perusing those yellowing pages, and were delighted when my mother offered us an old blue suitcase to explore. It was filled with photographs that my mother had brought home with her when we cleaned out my grandmother’s home when she was no longer able to live alone.
As my sister and I dove gleefully into our new box of treasures, we were greeted by frames containing the perfectly crisp and preserved black and white professional photographs that we fondly remembered perched on a wall of bookshelves behind my grandparents’ television. We searched through the dozens of Polaroids my grandmother was always snapping the last twenty years of her life. Unfortunately, most of those were blurry, and were now so faded from time that many of the subjects were nearly unrecognizable. There were envelopes of washed out color snapshots developed from point and shoot cameras in the latter decades of the twentieth century—some containing twenty-four photos, some thirty-six. There were some black and white snapshots from the 1950’s and 60’s showing smiling girls in poodle skirts and cars with tail fins. Then, at the very bottom of the suitcase, we found a few tiny “albums” of small photographs bound together by a developing company back in the late 1930’s and into the 1940’s. My photo-loving self was intrigued by what those albums might hold.
I opened one, and then another, happily taking in scenes of my aunts and uncles from a time before my mother was born. Though most of these snapshots were a little blurry, and the ink was not as vivid as it once was, they were of much better quality than any of the more recent amateur snapshots we were looking at from fifty years later! I looked more slowly through the next album featuring a new addition to the family—a baby. Even in the faded sepia tones, you could tell that this baby had beautiful brown skin. I found myself staring at that brown-skinned baby with a head full of straight-as-aboard black hair thinking, “This baby looks so familiar.”
Wandavee Payton, October, 1941, Tyler, Arkansas. Photo courtesy of the Morphew family private collection, (c) 1941.
Renewed upon restoration, (c) 2018.
A little more investigating led me to the conclusion that was already forming in my head—that baby was my mother! I solved the mystery, thanks to my grandmother's love for photographs! I ran into my mother’s kitchen and exclaimed, “Of course that baby looked familiar, she looked just like you!” I showed my mother the photograph, along with a few others I had found showing her at different points in her younger years. We compared them to ones hanging on her walls of my daughter at the same ages. The resemblance was uncanny.
My daughter is now fourteen. Since she was six, she has proudly told people that she looks like my mother. It’s become a part of her that she holds dear. My mother looks at this beautiful child—quickly turning into a young lady—and takes pride in the fact that she has a look-alike. She also realizes, as she looks at her granddaughter, just how beautiful she herself has always been.
Photographs are powerful. Photographs connect us to those who came before us, and to those who will come after us. Photographs freeze moments in time and allow those who were there, and those who come after, to re-visit those moments time and time again. But only if those photographs can be viewed.
Once upon a time, about 1990, I had a computer that saved my data to five and a quarter inch floppy disks. After that, came small, hard disks that we oddly still called floppy disks. Then there were CD’s, DVD’s, and now thumb drives. Down through the years, many computers have come and gone in my home, some crashing with valuable data locked inside forever.
My cell phone cameras are used to the point that my apps can no longer update on my overloaded phones. I try my best to keep my phones safe, but I’ve had two phones broken beyond data recovery, one phone stolen, and another phone on which I accidentally deleted every photo I had taken for over a year without ever having printed one. Those photographs are lost forever.
My grandparents, Ollie Payton and Susie Miller, before they were wed, October 4, 1930, in Wilburn, Arkansas.
Susie was an avid family historian, and cared for and displayed throughout her home any photos she was blessed to have of her family--both ancestors and descendants.
Her photo legacy has inspired me to create a legacy in kind for the future generations of my family,
and to help others create photo legacies for their families, as well.
Photo courtesy of the Morphew family private collection, (c) 1930. Renewed upon restoration, (c) 2018.
Although I take dozens of photos every day, If I’m not careful, my photo legacy will have more gaps in it than my grandmother’s did! My grandchildren will probably never see the hundreds of pictures I upload to Facebook yearly. They will probably be unable to access any of the data on the CDs or thumb drives they find in a drawer as they’re cleaning out my house someday. They’ll toss them all in the trash, never knowing that they contain pieces of their family history. They won’t even be able to power on all of the crashed computers that my tech-savvy husband has piled on a bookshelf and stored in dresser drawers to one day try and rebuild, so out to the dumpster they’ll go.
But those photographs in frames on the wall—the crisp, heirloom-quality professional ones showing our family's milestones, those will be treasured. Those beautiful albums on the bookshelf downstairs—those will be flipped through, exclaimed over, possibly cried over as memories flood back, and then divvied up between adults who grew up pouring over them when they came to visit us as children. Those canvases that they were never allowed to touch with their small, sticky hands will now be wrapped carefully in blankets that smell of lavender like their grandmother, and they will be transported to be hung over the fireplace, or up the stairwell of a different home.
I have made a resolution: I resolve that my grandchildren will have no need to wonder who that baby they are snuggling looks like because they will have access to prints documenting our family history for the generations I am blessed to live to see. There will be no more JPEG photo files getting corrupted on outdated media sitting in drawers without ever being printed. I will not trust any electronic media to be my only access point to my memories. I will print. That is my goal. That is my mission. Photographs are powerful. Prints are how we enjoy them now. Prints are how we can pass them down to future generations.
That familiar looking baby girl. (c) Bobbi Jasay Photography, 2017.
Bobbi Jasay is a photo artist residing in Kokomo, Indiana. Her very full life includes her husband, Johnathan, their eight children, and one very large goldendoodle. Capturing and preserving memories as beautiful works of art drive her business, Bobbi Jasay Photography.