The “funeral” I attended this last weekend wasn’t a traditional one. It was in my uncle’s yard. There was a barbecue and there were a lot of mosquitoes to contend with. There was nothing religious going on, no formal service at all; people spoke, but mostly spontaneously, and mostly just about their happy memories of my grandmother.
I mingled a little, but spent most of my time there sitting with my siblings and my cousin looking through stacks and stacks of photo albums.
I love photos. In the days of film, I would always develop my pictures as the rolls were used up on my vacations rather than wait until I was home. I can spend hours and hours putting together my photo albums and looking through them.
But I only started making photo albums when I was about 12. My grandma started a long time before that, and she had some seriously old photos: tiny black and white things that look like they came from a book and some of those airbrushed studio shots that they used to colour in with pencil crayons.
So many decades worth of photos. It was fascinating to go through them, even if I had to ask my aunt who a lot of the people were.
There were pictures of my grandma from when she was a child. I only ever knew her as an old woman, and I suppose I never considered that she was young once too. I found one picture of her from when she was about twelve and it shook me a bit, because she looked a lot like me.
There were a lot of pictures of me as well, mostly when I was really little. Also my siblings and my many, many cousins. It’s funny to look at pictures of yourself and people you know when you were, say, two years old. Your face was already there. You were already recognizably you.
It was also sort of sad looking at all the pictures of all of us. We were all so cute and happy. There was no way of knowing, then, which of us would have the charmed lives, which would have the tough ones, and which would have the much too short ones.
The bigger your family is, the more likely it is that it has a complicated history. Photos of your past –when you had a face that clearly had no idea what was coming — bring back happy memories, but with them come memories of old pain; of loyalties earned and lost; of secrets and grudges; and of the people who were once a major part of your life but aren’t anymore, whether by choice or circumstance.
My trip to Quesnel was short and intense. I reestablished some old connections, one in particular that I hope to maintain, and I learned a lot about who some of my family really are and also who they think they are. People change as life carries on, but your history creates you. Sometimes it’s a powerful thing to just remember.