Little Joys—Old Photos

One of the fun outcomes of this “little joys” project is that I’ve had to keep adding other ideas to my list as I’ve gone along. I don’t think I’ll be able to cover all of them during advent. Perhaps I’ll have to keep at it until I exhaust my list. 

Hopefully, I will never exhaust my list.

This is the bookshelf above my desk. Besides books (another little joy to come), most of my shelf hosts photos and mementos. These three photos are from my dad’s side of the family.

You can tell any story you want from old photos, but the true magic of these frozen moments are the facts and memories of the lives that animated those images. I like surrounding my office with these black and whites. They had their own stories to tell, their own ambitions and regrets, obligations and dreams, some of them realized and others never revealed to anyone else. The secrets each heart keeps could fill volumes.

Two of these photos showcase my grandma and grandpa when they were young, before they had children. The third is of them when they were older, but probably not much older than we are now. In a way, they are before and after shots of those ambitions and dreams, dreams that manifested in the form of descendants to outnumber the stars, in place of a Nashville stage.

Tonight, our advent activity is to go through our annual family albums, to travel into nostalgia, to remember when. Someday, these three photos will just be two dimensional glimpses of a grandchild’s ancestry—a distinct nose, a knowing smile, the certain shape of an eye—with no stories attached to explain the young man and his band, the tall girl in the cowgirl hat standing by him in a crowd, the cluster of children surrounding them. Someday, even the thousands and thousands of photos I’ve collected in photo albums will become mysteries to a descendant.

But for now, I still hold their stories. For now, they are still as real as they ever were to me when they were living and breathing beings. I can almost hear the two of them singing.

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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