Last Thursday a literal treasure trove landed in my inbox. One of my Bolivar cousins had been cleaning out some things in his dad’s old office, and he hit the photographic jackpot. Attached to the email he sent were eleven pictures, nine of which I’d never seen. Some were taken in the living room of the house in which I grew up. Some were in the home of my paternal grandparents. And at least one was from the family cabin that once stood in Hickory Valley. Despite their various locations, all the photos had something in common—each one included members of my family who left us years ago.
Although I was beyond excited to see these long-lost memories, the one you see here brought about feelings I can’t even begin to describe. That’s a little me, cradled in my daddy’s lap, screaming my head off over who-knows-what . . . and the look on his face says far more than words ever could. With one hand gently caressing my tiny shoulder and the other lightly resting on my leg, he looks as though he desperately wants to comfort me . . . and has absolutely no idea what to do, which is completely understandable. I was his first, and brand-spanking new, and he was a whole 25 years old at the time. He and my mother had been married almost four years when I arrived, somewhat of a surprise since they’d been told the likelihood of them having children was about one in a bazillion.
As I sat scrolling through these eleven pictures I tried to imagine how my cousin must have felt when he found them. After all, his dad was in several, as were our grandparents. I’ve been fortunate enough to come across old photos before, and the feeling that discovery generates is so warm and comforting . . . like stepping back in time and finding the people and places you loved so much just waiting for you.
But then I started thinking . . . what will my children . . . or better yet, their children . . . find sixty plus years from now? Because that’s how long these photos have been in existence. We don’t make pictures with film anymore and then print them to paper. Almost everyone is carrying a camera around in their purse or pocket or attached to their belt instead of hanging around their neck. As of right now, my phone has 7,677 pictures on it and 153 videos. Granted, a lot of those came from wandering cemeteries or documenting funeral services that families are kind enough to let us share with you. But a lot of those are also birthdays and Christmases and Easter egg hunts and the grandkids being cute. Have I downloaded them to a computer or put them on a flash drive? No. Do I have them stored in the Cloud? Well, up to a point, but the Cloud recently notified me I was about to overload my current capacity . . . as did my phone. And even if I had done all those things, would anyone know how to access them? I know they don’t have my phone’s passcode and I’m not sure my fingerprint is going to unlock it after I’m dead—if they even think to try. Does anyone know my login and password for my iCloud account? Nope. Even I have to look those up and then I’m still not sure what to do with them. What about my laptop? Can anyone unlock it? Only the IT guy when he works on it, and he usually has to ask me because the hint doesn’t make any sense to him. And I’d be willing to bet I’m not the only person making thousands of pictures that no one will ever be able to see.
We need to fix this, people. Since we aren’t going to revert to film and paper and a million gallons of ink, we can at least try to get our pictures organized and stored somewhere so someone at some point can actually find them. I need to store my logins and passwords somewhere and tell my kids where that somewhere is. And threaten their lives if they get into them before I’m gone. I need to find a way . . . we need to find a way . . . to make sure the thousands of moments stored in our phones and on our computers and in our clouds can be experienced again and again by the people to whom they will mean the most. Otherwise, we’re going to lose the visual reminders of our history—and our children and grandchildren and the generations beyond will never know how amazing it feels to be transported back in time.
About the author: Lisa Shackelford Thomas is a fourth generation member of a family that’s been in funeral service since 1926. She has been employed at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah, Tennessee for over 40 years and currently serves as the manager there. Any opinions expressed here are hers and hers alone, and may or may not reflect the opinions of other Shackelford family members or staff.