I can’t travel without thinking about (or inventing) lost or untold histories of the places I visit. I think about the people who called it home for the first time. They could have kept going.
They chose to stop, because it was the best place to start a life, or because they were tired and staying seemed more convenient. For the same reason, some of us choose to never leave our places of birth.
Family heritage is preserved in memories, which are often linked to our collections of images, and the stories they trigger. So, why do we find so many old images in almost every antique store and thrift shop?
If someone is not as interested as I am in the photographic process they represent, that’s fine. But why sell or give away our old family photographs? It always surprises me.
Over generations, family images become a bunch of old photos. Eventually, it is a box or binder full of images of strangers, like baseball cards of generic players on unknown teams, with no stats on the back to trigger a memory.
The people in our images mattered to previous generations. Shouldn’t they mean something to us now, even if we never met or knew them?
I don’t know the people in the wet plate collodion tintype below, but I respect them almost as if they were members of my family. In fact, I wish they were.
Found images mean found memories, alive like an old woman living in the fibers of her home, a mix of real, perceived and imagined, just like us.
All photographic images have stories to tell, if we are willing to listen. What are your family photographs saying?
. – . – .
I was raised an only child, but I am not.
“You have a lesser twin,” mother said. I think it was as much an attempt to comfort and encourage the twin who remained, as it was an assignment of expectation, as if I were to succeed for two, or else it would all be in vain.
When she grew tired of the struggle to live, Mother told me a story. It was just the two of us in the room, as it almost always was. Because of her failing health, our conversation was longer in substance than duration. I had just turned 12.
The story of my twin brother came out of her in spurts of words and gasps, like stitching together pieces of burlap. She talked until her words came out in pops and crackles as they fought through the fluid in her lungs.
Mother said she wanted to keep him, to keep both of us, but the doctor convinced her otherwise. Mother was not even allowed to hold him after giving birth. The nurses kept us both tightly wrapped and just out of her reach. One nurse counted my fingers and toes. After reaching ten and ten, I was declared normal and healthy, and handed to Mother. She said she cradled me in one arm and waited for my brother.
She couldn’t remember the number of digits they counted for him, but it was a different number, not ten and ten. In a confusing cloud of of murmurs and whispers, the staff carried my brother to another room. Apparently, he was certified as abnormal and unhealthy.
The doctor told her that her other son was, “not quite all there.” When she begged to see him, the doctor refused. “You will be disappointed,” he said, “and we are not in the business of disappointment.” Mother never saw my twin.
The doctor tried to provide comfort with sayings, like sometimes the stork brings blessings and curses in the same visit; it rains on the just and unjust; and why waste energy on a broken vessel and ignore the one that holds water?
Mother never asked me to search for my brother, because she assumed that he had not lived much past infancy. I always imagined him being alive somewhere. I have read that twins often sense those things.
Regarding my twin’s appearance, I assumed that he, being unhealthy, would have a slighter frame, perhaps with drooped and slightly narrower shoulders. I imagined him to be somewhat less comfortable in his own skin. A version of a tired me, maybe appearing a little older, given life’s hardships and fewer options for the less unfortunate lot.
Imagine my surprise when one Tuesday afternoon in late summer, I answered a knock at my door, the same knock that I use. I saw at my entryway my mirror image, more-or-less. Just as the doctor had told Mother, our mother, my twin was not quite all there. It was as if we had been dragged through each other until part of him was found missing.
. . .