Photography is sometimes the only way to connect us to our long-gone ancestors. Sometimes food does too.
A few years ago I asked my mother for the only thing I wanted to inherit from her: our family photos.
To me, photography is not only a passion, it is my memory. Along with defective genes, a lousy memory is also part of my inheritance. The box containing the yellowed photos in varied states of disrepair is the visual memory of where I come from. It’s part of what I am.
A couple of days ago, in the company of a steaming cup of coffee prepared just like grandma used to, and some Oatmeal and Almond Cookies, I slowly immersed myself in the past.
It is difficult to avoid some sadness at knowing that these pictures are the only thing that connects me with generations of cousins, friends, godchildren, grandparents, great grandparents, uncles, “comadres” and “compadres”. I never met most of them, but each image is a tiny window into their lives.
Dressed in their best attire — after all, this is before digital photography and selfies, having your photo taken was a big deal — they were caught in their moments of happiness (graduations, weddings, pageants, first communions, confirmations) and their moments of utmost sadness (many a picture of funerals).
Behind each photo, my mother wrote, as best as she could, who the person was, and what their connection to her children was, many a time alongside a dedication from the person in the photo themselves. A photo of an attractive young woman with big dark eyes and a strand of pearls reads “to my cousin Ana, with my love. P.” She was my grandmother’s cousin, the photo was taken decades before I was born.
But I don’t know anything else about her, except that I can glimpse a bit of resemblance to my grandmother and mother. Or maybe it’s my imagination.
A few important people from our history turn up in the box. A torn, faded photo depicts a group of well-dressed men from the beginning of the last century, hats in hand, paying their respects to something or somebody, behind which my mother wrote “Presidente Vasquez“.
Why is this picture in our family? What links me to these people?
Aside from defective genes, bad memory and a box full of faded pictures, I also inherited the love for coffee. And before doctors got the word out that giving coffee to small children was a terrible idea, I became addicted to it under my grandma’s skirt. Her “colador” a contraption that she found indispensable, well after her children kept trying to get her to switch to an espresso maker, is one of those indelible memories of my childhood. That and some rustic cookies of undetermined provenance.