Tuesday, 10 September 2013 17:48

Worth a Thousand Words

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family storytelling heritage stories tradition photographs"Okay, grandma, this is a picture of an old car, it may be a Model T Ford.  It's front end is all smashed in.  It's right next to a picture of a burial plot mounded with flowers."

"Oh, of course, that's the car crash my best friend Eddy died in.  We were about seventeen.  I think his picture is on the next page."

My grandma lost her vision in her 90's, but her memory remained sharp and clear for most of her 98 years.  We used to tease her that we could tell her a date, and she could tell us what the weather was like on that day.  It was after she lost her sight that I came across the photo albums.  Black paper with carefully mounted black and white photographs stared up at me without a word of explanation.  I thought we'd lost our chance to know about the pictures because Grandma had lost her sight.  I was wrong.  All I had to do was sit beside her and describe a picture to her.  Invariably she'd tell me about what else was on the page and what the pictures were about.  It was an amazing experience.  I couldn't help but think my journey through her memories was actually enhanced due to her blindness.  I had to look deeply at the photos so I could describe the details.  I had to talk to her, and I had to listen as the memories flowed.  As a result I've come to question the saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words."  It's only worth a thousand words if you know the story or can ask someone about it.  I'd suggest a picture is an invitation to find, excavate, and hear story!


I decided to test my theory by randomly picking a picture from a bin of photos waiting for me to do something with.  Of course, this could just as easily be done with a file of digital images.  The point is I went to photos of my past and randomly picked a picture.  I'm a history nerd, so I ended up spending some time researching the Imperial Bank of Canada (the building behind us) on Google, which was great fun; but I digress.  Or do I?  The point is, one detail in this picture led me on a story search.  I relearned much of what I had forgotten about the area and the time this photo was taken before I ever even considered my personal story associated with it.  That foray led me to create a list of things I want to research further and ask my parents about while I still can.

Ah, but what about the people in this photo?  I was reminded that my mother always dressed with total class no matter what we were doing.  A myriad of images of my mother dressed like Jackie Kennedy scrolled through my mind as I looked at her in this photo.  I got a chuckle out of the way Dave has his hands on my shoulders.  One hand protects while the other restrains - that's my big brother in a nutshell!  I was reminded that my mother was obsessed in dressing me in red.  That led me back to the photo bin to find other pictures to prove that obsession.  Yep, it was true.  I'm in red.  My dolls are in red.  She was obsessed with dressing me in red.  Which is really quite hilarious, when you know that when I was in high school she told me I wore "too much red and black" and I needed to stop because they were the colors of "evil."  Ha.  Ha.  Great memories.  And I'm not even to the story behind the picture, yet.  If I'm not careful, the two new pictures of me in red will lead me down a different path because of all the details in those pictures that trigger even more memories.

family storytelling photograph airplane family heritageBut what about the day this plane picture was taken?  I remember a single moment of this day.  I can close my eyes and still see it.  We are inside the plane, flying over a large body of water.  My brothers and I are strapped in the back.  I'm in the middle so I can see out the cockpit and touch my mommy if I get scared.  The pilot banks the plane to the right, and my mother's door flies open.  Suddenly I'm looking down at the lake far below me through an open door in the sky.  My mother is held in place only by her shoulder restraint.  I'm so frozen with fear I can't move, or even reach out to touch my mother.  I close my eyes tight.  I don't want to see her fall.  The pilot banks left.  The door slams shut.

That's it.  One picture.  One moment in time.  One invitation to find, excavate, and hear the rest of the story.

What did my brother's think?  Do they remember it?  Was my father on the ground aware of the door opening? Was he watching through his ever present binoculars?  Why wasn't he in the plane?  Did my mother scream?  How much longer did we fly after that moment?  And why was my mother obsessed with red?  I can't wait to ask everyone these questions!

What memories do your photographs hold?  Choose a photo a day.  Spend time with it.  Think back.  Capture the story and share it with your family!

Last modified on Monday, 23 September 2013 10:44
Teresa Clark

A national award-winning storyteller, historian and author, she is best known for her original works and recollections of life's experiences blended with history. Teresa has presented and performed throughout the United States. Of her, it has been said, "Charming, witty, soulful, and wise, her performances are filled with a compelling sense of wonder and an irresistable zest for life." Her story work involves performance, education, production, and advocacy. From the main stage to individual consultations in living rooms across America, she delights in the excavation and sharing of family story. Most importantly, she is a wife, mother, and grandmother to her favorite playmates and best friends.

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