I have found plenty of interesting things during my cleaning, like a stack of newspapers from 2006 and a book I wrote when I was 12. And then there are the old photos. Boxes and boxes of old photos.
I enjoyed taking a trip down Memory Lane while looking at the photos, but one frustrating habit I’ve always had that detracted from my enjoyment was I never wrote any dates, names or places on the backs of the majority of them. This caused me to spend 15 minutes trying to figure out how old I was when I posed in the neon-pink swimsuit, or whose party it was where my uncle, looking extremely “happy,” was wearing a paper plate for a hat and holding up his dentures in one hand.
I’m sure, however, if my husband still were here, he could tell me when every photo was taken. He always was the Sherlock Holmes of photo identification.
“I can’t remember which dog this is a puppy photo of,” I said to him one night. “All of our Rottweilers looked the same when they were young. But I’ve narrowed this one down to either Sabre or Shadow.”
He studied the photo for only a few seconds, then handed it back to me. “That’s Shadow.”
“How can you tell?” I asked.
“She’s sitting on the old vinyl floor. We had new flooring put in right before we got Sabre. Remember when you were trying to housebreak her at warp speed because you didn’t want her messing up the new floor? Every five minutes, you’d pick her up and come flying past me on your way to take her outside.”
It amazed me how something as simple as flooring could cause him to remember so much.
And even when clues in the photos weren’t quite as obvious, he’d use a magnifying glass to search for evidence
“This photo of you in the leather skirt and go-go boots definitely was taken in 1969,” he’d say, holding the photo up to his nose and peering at it through the magnifying glass.
“How can you be so sure?” I’d ask. “You didn’t even know me back then.”
“The car in the background. I can see the year on the license plate.”
Whenever I look through photos, I inevitably find several that were sent to me by friends and relatives who make me feel even guiltier about my lack of writing anything on mine.
For example, I flipped over a photo of my friend's little girl and on the back was neatly printed: "Kelsey, Christmas morning, 1998, at her grandparents’ house in Maine. Age 6 years, 3 months and 14 days." I was surprised she didn’t add what the kid had eaten for breakfast or a list of the Christmas gifts she’d received.
The only thing printed on the backs of my photos is, "Paper by Kodak".
So one year, out of guilt, I wrote dates on a few of my old photos purely by using guesswork. At the time, I’d figured rough estimates were better than no dates at all. And 500 years in the future, when archaeologists dig up my photos, at least they'll know in which century I was wearing a flowered mini-dress, platform shoes, and a hairstyle that looked like a replica of Mount St. Helens…during the eruption.
I found it nearly impossible, however, to date any of the photos I’d taken of my mother. The woman never seemed to age. The photos of her from 1975 looked the same as the ones from 1995. And the clothes she wore offered no clues. She didn’t follow the trends and wear things like bell-bottoms and mini-skirts, the way I did. She always wore tailored slacks and silky blouses, often with a blazer or jacket. I’m sure my husband would have been able to tell me the year every photo of her was taken, though – just by looking at the wallpaper in the background or counting how many gray hairs she had from one photo to the next.
I’ll never forget the time he found a photo of me on which I’d written an estimated date.
"I found this photo on the floor,” he said. "It’s of you, and you're wearing cut-off jeans and a T-shirt and you have really long hair. You wrote on the back that it was taken in 2000. But I looked at it with my magnifying glass and found a calendar on the wall behind you that’s dated 1983.”
“Well, maybe it was just an old calendar,” I said, even though I’ve always been a meticulous calendar-changer on New Year’s Day every year.
He chuckled and shook his head. “Come on, you know you never looked that young or that slim in 2000!”
Shortly after that, his magnifying glass mysteriously disappeared.
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