We Are Known By What We Leave Behind

100 years from now, no one is going to care who I am. I know this. I don’t mean that in a bad way and I don’t say it in the hopes someone will contradict me and shower me with praise; this is not said as Compliment Bait.

No, I say it because it’s true. 100 years from now, no one is going to care who I was. The same probably goes for you, too. In fact, with a few exceptions, it goes for most people. Command an army, serve as president, discover the cure for stupidness…history will remember you. But for most of us, this simply isn’t true. History won’t remember us. The wonderful every day glorious things we did: raise a family, work hard, bake a mean apple pie, help our neighbors…these things will never make it into the history books.

But when it comes to our family, well, that’s a little different. They are the people who could very well remember and more importantly, WANT to remember. To them, we will be part of that marvelous root system from which future generations sprang to life. We will be part of their story, whether they like it or not. I mean, you can pick your friends, you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your family, right? You are stuck with them and they with you. And most of the time, that’s a pretty great thing.

But what will they know about us? After all, time has a way of blurring the details. Family stories get changed, ever so slightly, with each telling. It’s to be expected. Tales are told of my Sicilian grandfather, Carmelo, who played poker with his Sicilian “friends” in the basement, and how each put their gun on the table during the game so that no one would end up the casualty of a sore loser. It’s a great story-no wonder “Goodfellas” is one of my favorite movies.

And while stories like this are a part of how I know a man I never met, I know him more from photos like this one: a man playing a banjo, his vineyard behind him, a dog at his feet.

Old photo of Italian man playing a banjo with a dog sitting at his feet

In fact, I know more about my Sicilian grandfather from this one picture than I do any story. I look at this image and see a man who loved music enough to pose with his banjo; a man who loved his dog and whose dog clearly loved him (check out that adoring expression) a man who was poor but donned a tie and hat because obviously, this photograph was important; a man who smiled at a time when smiling wasn’t “cool.”

No one but a handful of people in the world care about this picture. But to those handful, this picture is everything. I don’t have many photos of my grandfather. Photos were expensive and my dad’s family were dirt poor, so few pictures exist of this wonderful man and his wife and their 13 kids in their house on the hill in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. But with this one photo, I feel like I KNOW my grandpa.

How are we known, my friends?

We are known by what we leave behind.

Print the memories you want to preserve.

6 Comments on We Are Known By What We Leave Behind

  1. Great post, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I spend my (hobby) time taking pictures of the people I care about, so they have some memories for the future. I also try to print the good ones! I hope that in 100 years my descendants can look back and smile. That will be job done!

  2. This is a subject that I care about deeply. Thanks for sharing. I’ve been a photo restoration artist for over 35 years. I receive so much fulfillment when I’m able to play a part in reintroducing a family photo to a new generation. The stories each family has pertaining to their photo can cover a range of sentiment. Last year I got to scan some 4×5 glass plate negatives that were just amazing. As I unwrapped each individual plate I thought about the fact that no one living had probably seen what was on these negatives. The images on some were almost invisible to the eye. After scanning and applying a level and curve in photoshop some looked as if they had been shot yesterday(a few were art print quality). Giving those scans to that family made me feel honored to have been allowed to share in their family history. Find a photo from the past and bring it forward but I also agree with that last line. Create prints for others in the future. Olim meminisse juvabit-Virgil, Aeneid,1 “Someday it will be good to remember”.

  3. Wonderful blog entry.
    Thank you for sharing your reflection.
    I dedicate myself to the teaching of basic photography, here in Argentina, and I always refer to the importance of printing our most significant photos.
    I ask your consent to translate the note and share it with my students and acquaintances.
    My email is Mariomigdalek

  4. I can’t agree with you more about developing photos. I recently found myself sobbing as I poured coffee on my phone and the employee at the cell phone store said we prob can’t retrieve your photos…..I can’t tell you what that feels like knowing my last photos of my father alive, were included in those. There are many sites that developed for reasonable fees use one of them PLEASE I beg you or you will regret it. THIS WILL HAPPEN TO YOU SOME DAY AND THEN IT’S TOO LATE.

3 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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