Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Telling family stories

Mr Blithe pointed out last night that it doesn’t look good. One minute I’m moping around then not a word from me for days. The good news is that I’m still here. The bad news is that I’ve been really busy and my writing and blogging are going to be intermittent for a while longer. My parents’ significant anniversary and seventieth birthday party is looming and in a fit of uncharacteristic enthusiasm (at least for this point in my life), I volunteered to make a Powerpoint presentation of family history for it. This party has become a PARTY – something requiring great organisation and telephonic to-ing and fro-ing over the kilometres. My mobile phone has been ringing with questions such as “How much crème caramel do I need to make?” (or should that be cremes caramels?); “What else do you need?”; “What kind of salad should I make?”; “What can I give them as a present?”

As for the presentation, there isn’t one yet and I am flying to Sydney on Friday for the party on Saturday. I’ve been wading through masses of family photographs. These are well-travelled photographs. Some have come from the New Zealand of my father’s childhood, others from Sydney. Many are photos sent home over the years by my parents to their parents, trying to chronicle for them the growth of their grandchildren in faraway Asia.

Some photos were airmailed from Taiwan to New Zealand, kept in albums for years and then given to me when my grandmother died. I have one album marked on the cover with my grandmother’s writing that contains all the photos sent to her over the years. She kept it with her in the nursing home so that she could remember her family. My father left New Zealand in 1964 and hasn’t been back permanently since then. His history there is old history.

Other photos were taken in Malaysia or Hong Kong or Tajikistan or the United States or Taiwan. I have a picture of my eldest meeting her grandmother for the first time at Minneapolis airport. My daughter is red-faced and spotty and you can’t see that I am covered in hives in an allergic reaction to something at the hospital (birth perhaps?). I remember it though.

There are graduation photos and wedding photos. People joining the family and people leaving. Progression from the family motorcycle of my childhood through various cars all remembered. One image of our ute and I instantly can remember sitting on the bench seats in the covered back squabbling with my siblings. My parents had it good. We had to rap on the glass between us for them to even notice us let alone adjudicate our fights.

How do you choose just a few images to represent lives? I’ve narrowed it down to seventy-four and I know that there are many gaps. Seventy-four pictures have been scanned, cropped, rotated, sharpened, colour-corrected, tidied up and resized. Many have faded in their travels and in tropical storage. Some were taken with a camera that perennially grew mould in the lens in the tropical humidity. Still they are the images of our family’s past even to the crackles and spots (and that’s just the pictures).

Now it’s time for me to work out how to tell the story for all those people gathered this weekend. People who don’t have the gathered weight of family knowledge. People who share the knowledge but remember it differently. Story-telling is important and I have a couple of days to get it right, or at least satisfying to me.

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