Do you remember the Jim Croce song “Photographs and Memories” from the early 1970s? If so, you realize he’s recalling a relationship that didn’t quite work out the way he planned, and he’s left with only the souvenirs of their time together. As Christmas approaches, I, too, sometimes browse through a collection of photos that stir up wonderful memories from previous holidays.
Prior to our daughter Maria’s birth, my only camera was a cheap instamatic, and I knew I wanted something better for her arrival. Thus, I invested in a 35-millimeter, and I was ready to go when Maria arrived four days before Christmas in 1985. Among the many pictures I took of her that first week, both in the hospital and later at home, one stands out: a shot of her all nestled in a red snugly, resting in the baby carrier, and positioned underneath our Christmas tree. At the time, I didn’t realize it, but that first Christmas photo was the beginning of a 30-year adventure, a collection of Christmas photos near the tree of Maria, alone at first, and later with her sister, when Katrina arrived in June of 1988.
This album of only Christmas photos is so special because we can see not only the girls’ annual growth, but we can also chronicle a bit of our family’s history. We see the apartment where we lived for Maria’s first two years, the townhouse we rented for the next four years, and then two more years in that same apartment complex before we were finally able to buy our own place. Naturally, each location reminds us of our struggles and our accomplishments during those early stages of our family life.
Typically, I took the pictures just after noontime on Christmas Day. No, I didn’t show the girls in their pajamas opening gifts. Instead, I waited until after all the gifts were open, after breakfast was eaten, and after we were all dressed in our best outfits and ready to head out the door to a family gathering. The pictures may not show it, but we were always under a bit of stress because, naturally, we were always running late, yet I never wanted to leave the house until I had taken the pictures, pictures I would later add to this special album.
Today, we keep that album nearby in the living room because it includes so many precious memories. One portion of the album shows Maria alone through the years, another shows Katrina alone, and, my favorite, the third shows the two girls together. During the early years, they often stood apart, one on each side of the tree. Later, they stood closer yet still separate. And later still, as they matured, they seemed more willing to connect: at times, holding hands, and at other times, actually embracing.
In the individual shots, Maria typically stood tall, erect, and proud with a big smile on her face. Katrina smiled too, but she often wanted to hold one of the presents she had received that morning: her Beauty and the Beast toys one year, her American Girl doll another year, and her new tennis racquet later on. One year, in fact, when the girls were ten and seven respectively, I convinced them to squeeze into a big, decorated box, so they appeared to be the presents under the tree. Looking back, I realize now the accuracy of that portrayal.
Our children truly are precious gifts. As their parents, we like to think that we are taking care of them, but, honestly, they are taking care of us. Children allow us to experience again the excitement of a snowfall, the thrill of decorating a tree, and the absolute pleasure of exchanging gifts while also exchanging smiles and laughter and love. Today, I cannot physically go back to those innocent years when we were all so much younger. Fortunately, though, my thoughts bring me back to what Croce describes as “memories that come at night” and memories that “take me to another time.”
As mentioned earlier, Croce’s relationship with his special someone didn’t quite work out, and sometimes, our loved ones leave us all too soon. Croce himself died an early death at age 30, as did our daughter Maria at that same age. So, no, we don’t always get what we want for Christmas. As a result, we sometimes dwell sadly on what we didn’t receive, or we cry for those who left us far too soon. This Christmas, though, I will return again to my photographs and memories and fondly recall that “We sure had a good time when we started way back when, morning walks and bedroom talks. Oh, how I loved you then.”