I flipped on the light switch and walked into the room. They were all stacked just where I had left them on sturdy shelving units. Many of them were in the same boxes that had housed them for years and years. Others were in much newer boxes. As I surveyed all of them, I didn’t know quite where to start. However, I was on a mission. A mission to find photos from my past.
Little did I know when I wrote my column last week about capturing memories by snapping photographs that I would soon be sorting through all of mine. There they sat in front of me: boxes filled to their very lids with layers of stacked memories that chronicled a lifetime. The producers of my reality show — “Mark Being Mark!” — had asked me to find photos of me growing up to include in various places throughout the series and in promotional materials.
As I approached the first box and dusted it off, I felt I was in some sort of a reverent place — a place where you had to be quiet and pensive. I was almost a little scared as I lifted the lid of the first box. I certainly didn’t want to let any of my childhood memories escape. Placing the lid on the floor, I could almost hear my loved one’s voices. They were so excited that I was once again coming to visit with them — and I was, too!
I knew I didn’t have time to go slowly all the way down memory lane. Instead, I would have to take a shortcut through all the roads that led me to where I am today. As I glanced at some of the photos, I was reminded that all of my roads were not flat and smooth. Among them were hills, valleys and even some muddy, slippery paths. Seeing the photos sparked great emotion — sometimes even the same emotions I felt at that particular moment in my life.
One thing I discovered is that age doesn’t simply march across our faces and bodies, but also takes a toll on the paper our photos are printed on. I almost didn’t have to look for the year the photo was taken because the torn, ragged and brown aged spots on the photos gave me a pretty good hint.
My main goal was to locate some of my Olan Mills’ baby and childhood photographs. In my mind, I could clearly see the dark leather book that they were bound in. I could even see the bookcase where it had always been without fail at my parents’ house. But I couldn’t find it now.
Panicking and continuing to look, I revisited all kinds of birthday parties, holiday gatherings, family reunions, first days of school, graduations, weddings, funerals and everything in between. On my journey, I saw a multitude of hair and clothing with the colors and styles of both changing almost instantaneously. I was confronted with all kinds of home decoration do’s and don’ts, most of which were don’ts.
I must confess I had made many of the tragic mistakes myself. After I watched my sister and I magically grow up in a matter of minutes, I then saw my children do the same in super-fast motion with my wife and I with them at every age.
But the photos I cherished the most were the ones of my parents and grandparents, who are no longer with us except in my mind and in the ink of the photos. I stopped for just a second to spend some precious time with each of them. Then I remembered I still couldn’t find my childhood album. I continued to frantically search.
Suddenly, right under a photo of a snaggle-toothed child with a big smile and a dollar bill the Tooth Fairy had obviously left, were the pages of the first six years of my life. The leather book was now gone, but the pages looked pretty good to be almost 50 years old. As I grabbed the cellophane-covered pages, a sheet of notebook paper fell out and, like a paper airplane, glided to the floor.
I picked it up and immediately recognized my mother’s handwriting neatly chronicling my life from six months to six years of age.
Dressed to the nines and smiling profusely, there I was, captured in time with the aid of warm sepia tones. I smiled as I looked at each picture and read my mother’s documentation.
As I closed the last box and returned the photos back to their resting place, I left with a handful of memories. I wondered for a moment how many cameras it had taken to amass such a collection but then I decided that the number mattered little to me. At least I have all the photos saved to visit whenever I like.
I took the ones I had chosen to my producers to use as they needed. In return, I was surprised by them with a large, matted, brand new publicity shot of me for the show recently taken by Janet Carter. I once again found myself looking at a photo of myself. Even though there are more wrinkles on my face now than when I first started my journey, I have so much more to look forward to on this exciting new path I am now traveling.
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Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; fax them to (478) 474-4390 or call (478) 757-6877.