Memories in the Hall

As the New Year starts, I look around me and see that much in my house reflects the past. The comfort of familiar nostalgia just may be beginning to bog me down. The longest hallway in our house reaches from the doorway to the kitchen near the back door and runs the length of the mudroom and the laundry room. It’s eighteen feet long and filled with photos in black and white frames of our family, both Bill’s side and mine.

Since 2012, the photos haven’t changed too much. With no family in town, I wanted a hallway filled with family photos to remind our sons Will and Liam of their connections to their people who are hundreds of miles east and west.

There are only three rows of photos and the bottom row is at the height of a 7-year-old as that’s how old Liam was in 2012. Walking through the hall one day, Will asked, “These are so old. Why don’t you put newer pictures up?”

The answer is not so much that I don’t have space; there is plenty of room to make another row above the current grouping. Most of these photos are touch points in the past marking good times with family in Iowa and England throughout the boys’ childhood. Plus, pictures of their great-grandparents, who hold such a big space in my memory that I wanted the boys to at least know the faces of their grandparents’ stories. The boys have sufficient personal memories now to have a clear feeling of “place” in a family that isn’t down the street or in the next town over.

Recently, Liam stopped to look at a photo of Bill’s family and said, “Mom, can we take a new photo and put up here?” In the photo on the wall, Bill’s mom is sitting in a chair in her living room and her family, all seven of us, are sitting around her. It was taken five years ago when Liam had decided that smiling for photos was a bit boring. His pose that day, bulging cheeks and eyes, resembled a puffer fish. And now, at 12 years old, he sees that and wants a retake. Sadly for this photo, there is no retake. Grandma is in a nursing home now and her illness has taken away her livelihood and her physical being of “Grandma.” I hesitate to remove that one from the wall. The same is true of the early 80’s portrait photo of Bill’s dad that anchors the far end of the photo gallery. He passed away in 1984.

I wonder in our house who lingers in this hallway all that much. It’s a straight shot from the bedrooms upstairs, to the bottom of the stairs, through the office and down this hall to the back door. I know it’s heavily trafficked but few linger. Alas, there is the Laundry Maven who regularly chats with Frank, Bill’s dad, as his picture is right across from the washer and dryer.

For Christmas, Bill’s sister gave us a framed black and white photo of our nephew playing guitar on stage. It’s in a 10”x10” black 3D frame. I saw the photo on their living room wall when we arrived a couple days before Christmas. I wanted to ask her for a copy of it, and there it was under the tree. If ever there was a photo that summed up a beautiful journey from child to adult, this was it. He’s looking down intensely at his guitar as he’s playing. In black and white, his t-shirt is gray and his black leather vest pops with stage-like presence. There is the true grit in the photo: He’s not looking outward to the world or to his parents for guidance, he’s truly come into his own passion and his confidence exudes from the photo. That photo had to find a place on the wall, so one of him as a young teen, with guitar in hand, came off the wall.

In a vein of honesty, since this photo was a gift, it was easier to replace the old with the new. To look through photos to find more current ones to blow-up and frame? That’s a rabbit hole I could fall into for weeks. I would pull-up the most current on my iPhone, do a small scroll back through fall, hit summer in Iowa and find twenty photos by the time I reached the beginning of last year. And, my inclination would be to keep going. Ah, boundaries… I could set the limit of going only to the beginning of the previous year – yet that would eliminate the Christmas in the previous year where I see so many adorable photos at the tiniest flick of my fingertip. I’m already overwhelmed. I’m not confident that I could abide by such time constraint.

However, it’s doable. If the kids are noticing these aging framed photos, then the prints inside need a re-do. They’ve seen them often enough for the moment to have become a memory. Will sitting on a rock with Grandpa in Marblehead, Massachusetts, with the ocean behind them. Will standing next to Grandma in the butterfly exhibit at the Museum of Science in Boston. In that picture, the top of his head is at her waist; today, Will is slightly taller than Grandma. These photos are from Grandpa and Grandma’s first trip out to see us. And from that same trip, a photo of Liam pulling a pen out of a pocket in Grandpa’s striped bib overalls, the same type of bibs he wears every day in Iowa. Liam doesn’t need to be reminded of that pen, for over the last ten years, he and Grandpa have regularly held contests of who-can-hold-the-pencil-under-his-nose-the-longest on Skype. Yes, those photos can come down.

I’m moving in the direction of updating and I think I know how to do it – the same way Mom does. I’ll put the new photos in and leave the old photos behind the new in the frame. Mind games.

Happy Hump Day!