Friday, July 11

The Victorian Photo Album

My wife belongs to a writing group which publish their collective stories.
Below is her recent story from the groups recent Authology.

The Victorian Photo Album

The Victorian Photo Album sat among a row of other albums of various shapes and sizes. These precious possessions held a passing parade of family images; a visual reminder of faded special events. It was a loving Christmas gift from her parents some years ago. She puts the duster aside, takes it down from the shelf running her fingers over the burgundy grosgrain fabric binding. Her eyes wander over the posy of antique flowers printed on the marbled, emerald green and burgundy cover; a reproduction of a long gone era. The forward on the first page reminds an observer of the stiff, formal, sepia presentation of photos of our ancestors, unlike the technological advances of the present day. Each cardboard page has either a small oval or round-cornered, oblong, single cut out section with small slits to enable a special photo to be slipped into place. Each one is surrounded by a spray of flowers: briar roses, pansies, daffodils, hibiscus or passion flowers. These floral arrangements highlight each special print.

As she turns the pages she wades back through a sea of memories. There is her eldest daughter posing for a school photo. She wishes she had written the date on the back. Now she can only guess. Perhaps it was first grade; it was certainly wintertime, as the heavy, box-pleated, woollen uniform implies. She remembers wondering at the time what her first born would be when she grew up. There she is again on the opposite page; all grown up celebrating her twenty-first birthday. Then she was nearing the end of a University Degree in Commerce. How confident she looks as she thanks her friends for attending this special event even though some had ‘sent her up’ earlier, mimicking many of her bad habits. How well they knew her. This photo is surrounded by daffodils; Spring flowers for a blossoming womanhood.

Another turn reveals her second daughter’s prep photo in a similar pose, pen in hand ready for school work. There was that familiar, shy tilt of the head which has disappeared in her twenty-first photo opposite, where she was ready to join her family and friends at a local restaurant. The hibiscus spray of muted autumn tones complements her floral skirt of similar hues. The brown, suede, beret sitting at just the right angle demonstrates her tasteful fashion sense which was always evident even during her student teaching rounds.

Over the page a young debutant smiles up at her, or so it seems. ‘All that shopping around from salon to salons paid dividends’, she muses. Her baby is all grown up and looks beautiful in the pearl satin, medieval look, gown. The wrist length lace gloves were not a popular addition. How things change from age to age! She caught her by surprise when she expressed her wish to make her debut. She should have known that her natural ability to appreciate and move to music would be motivation enough. The social aspect of the whole process did not go unnoticed either.

The small oval space opposite lies empty. ‘Life must have intervened, distracting me from the completion of the album or perhaps her young school photo is in another album. I must hunt it out and complete the original idea,’ she decides. Over the page is her daughter again with her proud father. They are surrounded by antique roses, a fitting finish for a debutante. ‘Oh! That tie he is wearing is still hanging in our cupboard and has not been worn for years. I really need to do some spring cleaning and have him update his wardrobe,’ she promises herself.

She pauses again at the final photo remembering her parent’s 40th Wedding Anniversary. They are standing outside Mishe’s of Balmoral after a delicious seafood meal with all their family. What better place to celebrate this special event; they met at a surf club dance and spent a great deal of time at the beach. The turquoise ocean background fades to a silvery blue as the tide laps over the creamy shore. June’s late afternoon sunlight spreads across her father’s face leaving her mother partly in shadow. They are casually dressed; her father in a pumpkin coloured jumper and light brown trousers and her mother in a sage wool dress, pink-mauve cardigan and matching scarf. They have always had an eye for fashion and that day was no exception. She remembers placing their photo in the wreath of passion flowers. Yes, an appropriate choice.

Suddenly she realizes that her parents are the same age then as she is now. Back then she could not imagine what she would be like at sixty-one. Then, she was a thirty-eight year old, full time, stay at home mother, ferrying her three daughters to various activities, at the same time rehearsing with her husband for their Parish Reviews. She can’t help but compare their lives: similar in some ways but very different in others. Her parents were married in 1945 in a small room at the side of the altar of a Catholic church. Mixed marriages were only just tolerated then and could not be celebrated in the church proper. When she married though, things had changed a little. They took their vows in front of the altar but her husband could not take communion even though he was able to in his own Anglican church. He received a blessing instead which seemed to her a contradiction. The church has mellowed somewhat since then, allowing girls to serve at the altar and men and women to give out communion but stands fast against other issues such as married priests, women priests and non-Catholics not able to receive communion.

Her parents moved into their new home five years after their marriage in what was then the outskirts of Sydney. They raised three children, two girls and a boy. Her mother was a stay at home mother which was the norm for that time. Her father worked sometimes three jobs in their early married life and they were heavily involved in their children’s sporting activities. Her mother gained her driving license in her forties and re-entered the work force when her youngest son was in high school. On the other hand, she passed her driving test early into her first pregnancy much later than her younger sister. Two car accidents while traveling as a passenger had destroyed her confidence but necessity forced her to face her fears. Her first home after she married, fifteen minutes further south from her parents was only serviced by a bus to the shops or railway station making it impossible to lift her heavy pram up the steps without a great deal of effort. The bus driver would not help either. That was not part of his service. She remembers her mother traveling by bus with three children and the weekly shopping struggling on and off the bus. She was made of sterner stuff.

The last space in the album is empty; a perfect place for her 40th wedding anniversary photo next year. Tears moisten her eyelids as she closes the album, turns it over and gently runs her fingers over the smooth surface. Why the tears she wonders? Perhaps it‘s grieving for things past. ‘This is foolish for we cannot go back’, she scolds, No! They are happy tears. Now she has four beautiful grandchildren to create a sequel to these precious memories. Wiping away the tears, she replaces the album in its place on the shelf, dusts it off one more time and begins to think about preparing the evening meal as she continues with her chores.


Seraphine said...

The sad thing about most photos is succeeding generations have no idea. They don't know the people, the emotions, the events being commemorated. They lose all context. The photos aren't appreciated as being living things.
The wonderful aspect about photos is the memories. They are reminders, place markers of another time.
I think the second-best photos have a story with them, written on the back of the photo and dated.
The very best photos are the ones like you describe... Where the family history is passed on, made real by the person narrating the stories. The people are real. The love is real.
This was beautifully written Lindsay. Thank you.

Michael Manning said...

I have to agree with my friend, Seraphine. One of the things I did for my Mom for a Christmas gift was to organize 1,500 photos she had in drawers over the years into acid-free photo books. Thanks for sharing such a nice post!!

Anonymous said...

I'm so horribly non-sentimental about photo images. All of my friends and family involved in creative memories almost completely destroyed any sentimentality I might have otherwise had.

But the older I get, the more I can relate to this post. Photos are an odd thing - such a new invention, really. They place a stamp on time and contain it and force our memories to be contained, too. The written word did the same thing, but in a different way.

Anyway, beautiful post. Very heart-felt.

Seraphine said...

I look at pictures I've taken
and sometimes can't believe
it was real.

Sarah J Clark said...

Thanks for visiting my blog again! =)

Yes little boys are rambunctious. They're fun though! =)

As for your post regarding photos, my husband would call me a shutter bug AND a video junkie.

What can I say? I love to document life.

I'll be back! =)

lindsaylobe said...

Hi Sera, Michael, Sarah & Arulba
Thanks for all your kind and insightful comments. Best wishes

DellaB said...

What an absolutely novel and excellent idea for a family story.

I have recently completed a course about ways to engage with autobiography writing, where they show you different methods to jog memory. They would have loved this idea.. thanks for sharing it Lindsay.


nicla b said...

I love this piece Mum because now that I am a mother I can see how you can be very emotional as you get older when looking at photographs. I used to look at old photos and think they were funny but now i feel more nostalgic. It seems to evoke a mixture of joy at recalling the happy times and longing to hold the present in your hands for just a little bit longer. When I see pictures of my boys as babies I realize I have forgotten how tiny there little hands are and the innocence that they radiated. But just as you say in your piece, the future holds so much potential for new albums of memory.
I love the descriptive quality to your writing. My Favourite line was about the "turquoise ocean" and the "creamy shore."