The Gift of Memories
Jodi Bondy used photographs to share precious time with her father, to find out from him the stories behind the photos, and to allow him to revisit wonderful moments in his life before he died. Together they created a rich legacy to pass down to her children and grandchildren. She is also a personal photo organizer and owner of Hoosier Photo Organizer. ~ Cathi Nelson
The Gift of Memories By Jodi Bondy
I dabbled in photo-organizing for at least fifteen years, but had no real purpose in mind until two years ago when my dad was diagnosed with cancer. As he was going through chemo and radiation, we had a lot of downtime. We had to travel to the treatment centers, and we stayed four days each time. There were a lot of hours to fill, and I hit on the best way to fill them.
Six or seven years before, I had given my parents four scrap- books of photographs. I asked them to add the stories behind the photos during those winter months when they were snowbound. Well, it never got done.
Now was the perfect time to do it. I had lost my grandparents and aunts and uncles and realized that I had heard a lot of family stories while I was growing up, but, you know kids, I wasn’t pay- ing attention. After all, there wasn’t going to be a test! And the day came when their stories were forever lost. Now, I wanted to pass the family legacies on to my children and grandchildren, and I needed to start scrambling to grab as many of the stories as I could, when I could.
The scrapbooks helped pass the time while Dad was under- going treatment. Dad and I went through them. I used the voice recorder on my phone to make sure that I got every word. He told stories associated with the photos. I asked questions: “Okay, but remind me now, where is this?” and “How did we do this?” and “What is this?”
I made notes also, but I haven’t yet transcribed the notes or the recordings. The important thing is that I have stories that will patch up some holes in our family history. We didn’t get through all the scrapbooks, but I learned things from my dad’s early days: when he went into the army, the people that he went in with, where he was, what he did.
When my dad was eighteen, he and a buddy drove to Florida, pulling their boat behind the car and sleeping in the boat at rest areas. Then from Florida, they went to Cuba! When I was young, I’d wonder why my dad didn’t let me do some things I wanted to do. Now I knew—because he had done them and knew the dangers!
What I loved best was when my dad was looking at the photos and telling me the stories of his life, he was at his most vibrant. He told me about when he started working and the jobs he had. He remembered his bosses’ names from back in the 1940s and 1950s. He remembered every detail. He didn’t remember what we just had for lunch. He didn’t remember we’d just had lunch. But as soon as I pulled out the scrapbooks, he snapped right back and knew every detail.
In those final weeks, rather than sit with him and be sad and anticipate what was coming, I pulled out the scrapbooks. He would liven up, talk to us in a semi-normal way, and be a part of the family.
Gathering these stories enabled me to see who I am, where I came from, and why I am the way I am. I’ll pass those things on to my kids. Now that I have them, I can’t lose them. People’s photos end up in boxes in antique stores or junk shops, and their stories will not live on. I don’t want my pictures to end up like that.
There were times that I felt bad for my mother. So much of the focus was on Dad. My mom grew up in Mississippi. Her family didn’t have a lot of money, and they didn’t take many photographs. We have so many pictures of my dad growing up and of his family, and we don’t have that for my mom. Was she envious or sad that she didn’t have those kinds of memories to share? No, she was glad to see me spending quality time with my dad. He had worked so much when I was growing up. We’d go camping and do some other things together, but mostly he worked. It helped my mother to see us together and enjoying each other.
Those times helped me also. When I finish the book, it will help me even more. There will be days that I’ll need it to remember something. There will be days I’ll look through it to be proud, once again, of my dad’s life, and I’ll think back to those treasured days we spent together.
For those who want to assemble photos and their stories, I found it’s best to do it in little chunks. Trying to do it all at once can be exhausting.
Also, accept that there are things you may never know, things your loved ones don’t care to talk about. You can’t let that get in your way. Take it slow and easy and get as much as you can. Even if you don’t get everything you want, you’ll have more than you started with.
Eventually, other people may fill in the gaps. Even now, I think of things I wish I had asked my dad about. But I didn’t, and that’s okay. The main thing I want people to know is not to wait too long.
I also would encourage people to take pictures every day. Don’t wait for those special moments. I took as many pictures of my parents with my grandchildren as I could. I want them to remember my mom and dad.
I am creating memories one picture a day. There is a story behind every one of them. We may not know the significance of those photos now, but they will be very significant in the future.