Picture Perfect Memory

Recently I saw a meme floating around Facebook that said something along the lines of “I’m so old, I remember days when I didn’t take one picture”.

I laughed, because I am that old, and then I stopped laughing and thought, “Huh, wow.”

That meme was a think piece. There really was a time when we didn’t take pictures of everything, every day.
When we weren’t all that concerned with remembering each moment.
When only professional photographers knew anything about filters.
When we–ack!–didn’t even have cell phones.

Developing photos taken with traditional cameras, the ones that don’t allow you to talk or text with others or surf the web, is expensive. Always was. Back in the day, at least a little bit of forethought was required before taking pictures: “How much film do I have?”

Snapping just as many pictures as we want to in order to get “the perfect picture” (or something darn close) as we do today was never in the realm of anyone’s imagination back then. Picking up a freshly-developed roll of film–because the whole roll had to be finished before removing it from the camera–was a lot like picking up a box of chocolates, if I could borrow a Forrest Gump-ism: you never knew what you were going to get. Sometimes we were filled with horror because the pictures we looked forward to keeping forever as tangible mementos of a special day came out blurry, double-exposed, or cursed with a variety of other upsetting photo defects.

I didn’t think about the meme again until today while working on my latest project: I’m taking my printed photographs (pre-2008ish) OUT of the photo boxes they’ve lived in, in chronological order, for the last decade or so and going through them. I’m tossing random pictures of things I don’t think anyone in my family will care about (extensive coverage of zoo animals, crowd shots, random buildings WHUT) as well as blurry pictures, and I’m actually putting the keepers in three-ring photo binders with acid-free pages. The reason I put the pictures in the photo boxes in the first place was so that when I finally got back to scrapbooking, my work would be easier.

Welp. I think my scrapbooking days are over and anyway, if I did have the time I’d probably make photo books online rather than hand-cropping my photos and cutting cute shapes out of colored paper.

I decided I’d rather streamline the pictures and put them into books that we can actually look at and enjoy now and then, so I started yesterday with 1982.

I filled one 500-picture album with pictures from 1982-1989.

I know. That’s an average of seventy-one pictures per year. Even though I didn’t have a kid until 1992, it was still shocking.

Today I started on the second book. The lack of photo coverage of 1991 was jaw-dropping to me. It was a huge year for us: our first beagle (the late, great Bijoux) was still a puppy, Jim returned home from Operation Desert Storm, I graduated from college, we moved from Norfolk, Virginia to my parent’s house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and then into our own little house in Kenosha, my sister graduated from high school, and I became pregnant with our first child.

I have less than sixty pictures from that year.


I can hear and feel the gasping of my younger readers.

Highlights of 1991 according to my photo album are:
~ Bijoux and Rex playing together on her first birthday, in February
~ My college graduation, in May
~ Apparently I spent some time washing dishes (with Bijoux looking on) while pregnant, in December

Rex and Bijoux

Melisa college grad

Melisa three months pregnant

I’m still stunned.

But then I think about today, modern times. We take so many pictures.

Wait, let me speak for myself. I take so many pictures. Sometimes I get so focused on preserving moments for the future that I don’t enjoy them as much as I could in the present. What if my kids don’t remember that we did such-and-such? What if I don’t remember that we such-and-such?

Does it really matter?
I look back on these old pictures and sure, there are countless moments that are lost forever. Only a handful of my undocumented moments have earned permanent spots in the recesses of my mind…but I remember the important stuff. I can easily piece together memories of my life lived happily. It makes me think that I should make a genuine effort to put my phone/camera down more often and let my brain do the heavy lifting for the long haul. On the other hand, the technology is available and it’s not expensive to create a running memory book in the Cloud; is it really so bad that I enjoy trying?

There are pros and cons to both extremes and figuring out how I can land softly in the middle makes it a matter of, like everything else, moderation and balance.

I’m going to make it my mission to be successful in finding the middle. In fact, I can picture it.


  • Liz

    I recently found a scrapbook the kids and I created for their Dad 13 years ago and we had such a great time looking through it, I now keep it out on RBR coffee table. It’s a fun reminder of how we enjoyed to craft together — I outlined their little handprints in fabric paint — and proof that…yeah…we did so craft together 🙂 Thanks for the reminder!

  • Sylvia Joy

    I sometimes think you and you sister have photographic minds because you remember so much.
    Love Grandma W