I'm ashamed to admit (though I comfort myself by doing things like adding up the number of addresses we've had since then as an excuse) that in the seven years since my father died, the only photo we've had regularly visible of him is a fairly random snapshot stuck to the fridge. One that we stuck to the fridge when we got it, years before he died, and which comes off the fridge with every moving out and goes back on the fridge with every moving in, just like everything else.
He himself was more than averagely committed to family archives. We used to have evenings when the slide projector came out of its crumbling box in the closet (I remember the acrid smell of the cardboard and the hot smell of dust on the bulb) and the organized cases would be looked over, each of us having some say in which tiny acrylic box of the past should be opened next, to see if we could recognize the younger faces of our loved ones, ourselves, our never-met long-buried relatives (except now I realize they weren't so long-buried, really; less long than seven years, anyway, but when you're 5, anything that happened "before you were born" belongs to the realm of myth). To hear again a few tiny snippets of stories, fairly dull ones, mostly, except that they had happened to us or to the people that were our parents. (And there were some exciting stories, too, to be fair, like the one that went with the photo of a bowl full of crawling caterpillars and with its successor, the photo of a bowl full of charred caterpillars, ready to be served. My parents admitted they hadn't actually eaten those horrible-looking things, but that they had been in the presence of people cooking and eating caterpillars was quite exciting enough.)
For that and other reasons, I regret that we don't have my favorite photos of him out where we can see them. So yesterday, I finally opened up the digital folder of pictures we'd selected for the memorial service and started to think about which ones I might want to print. The kids came in and looked over my shoulder, asking, "Who is that?" Shocked to see photographic evidence that I was once a child, that their grandparents were once quite young, they soon accepted that time is strange and photographs make it stranger. That baby in the black and white picture - was that Mr. P? No? Shmoogie? No. Mommy?
Before you were born, I say, before I was born, even, echoing the warm voices that swell over the remembered sound of the projector fan, the shush-chunk of the advancing slides, and the irritated mumbling of my father as he cleared the inevitable jam so the show could go on.
Two photos from now, for the sake of the archives...