The following piece was published some four years ago now, but of late I find myself frequently taking a trip down memory lane and thought I’d share it with all of your again. Enjoy!
Many of us assign sentimental value to inanimate objects as a pleasant way of remembering the people and places of our past.
They evoke more joyous times – which our hearts and minds often begrudgingly forget while living life and dealing with its realities. And while I myself have such souvenirs, to me nothing is as precious as a photograph – a moment in time forever immortalized for our viewing pleasure.
I enjoy looking at old pictures – especially black and white images of family members I’ve never had the opportunity to know beyond stories passed down through the generations. Unfortunately, sometimes all we’re left with are dozens of family photographs, which are missing the narrative that makes them come alive. And while history books have aptly captured prominent times in our nation’s illustrious past, once the elders in our family are gone, so are the stories and the glories of our own legacy.
When my grandmother was 90 years old her life was pretty quiet. Though she often didn’t leave her living room sofa she was far from alone. You see she was always surrounded by photographs of her history and her legacy – from storied pictures of her childhood to the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren she was always so proud of. Those photographs no doubt served as a reminder of almost 90 years of living, loving and laughing.
I remember being there one night when grams younger brother, her sister-in-law and her niece paid her a visit – bringing with them grandma’s favorite flaky, Italian pastry known as Sfogliatella Riccia (though many refer to them simply as “sfil-ya-del”). I myself hadn’t seen my great aunt and uncle in some time and it was a thoroughly memorable evening filled with reminiscing, pastries and laughter, compliments of a box of old pictures.
One photograph my grandmother always treasured was prominently displayed on an end table in a gold, ornate frame. The image was from June 25th, 1949 – her sister Norma’s wedding day. It served as the only existing photograph of my grandmother, her parents and her eight brothers and sisters. It’s a beautiful remembrance capturing the Romano clan in elegant dresses and classic suits looking happy as could be.
That night, my grandmother and her brother affectionately stared at the eleven smiling faces before them in awe. Here was a tight-knit family who used to be such an enormous part of each other’s lives, yet now were nothing more than memories from the past.
As I looked on, I could see the longing on their faces for those familiar family members who were no longer walking the earth. There was so much history in the room that night – a history that without which I wouldn’t be here to write this. And while I tried my best to soak up as much information as possible regarding those I on¬ly knew through stories and photographs, for my grandmother and her brother it was a bittersweet trip down memory lane.
I was fortunate to be raised by parents who taught me the importance of honoring those who came before me; to be attentive to them and cherish their existence as long as they were around. You see in my own small way, I am a part of their legacy – an extension of themselves that will live on even when their lives have reached the end.
My grandmother has since passed on from this life and I miss her terribly. But I truly believe there’s no greater gift than showing those who have helped nurture and grow your family tree just how proud you are to have a place in the history book of their lives. I hope she knew just how proud I was to be called her grandson.
Lee Iacocca once said that, “No matter what you’ve done for yourself or for humanity, if you can’t look back on having given love and attention to your own family, what have you really accomplished?”