Homemaking: Get the picture?

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Like so many American households, our family has literally thousands of pictures stored away. Ever since the advent of the digital camera, my wife has been taking almost daily photos of me and the kids, to the point where our daughters' most common pose is holding up a hand to block the lens, as if they were being stalked by an intrusive paparazzo.

Every vacation, every trip to cut down a Christmas tree, even while we are sitting on the couch and watching TV, she's been there, snapping away and calling out "Smile!" It might be a bit much, but someday when our kids are adults, they can show their own kids exactly what their lives were like, just by calling up some files.

At least I'm hoping we still have all those pictures. What's happened over the years is that every time the camera memory card has gotten full, we've downloaded the pictures to our computers and started over again. We don't edit, or select, we just ... download.

We are also type of family that goes into the computer superstore and buys the cheapest computer you can buy, the type with the brand name you don't recognize, the type where the young salesman frowns and walks away when he hears your price range. And cheap computers, we've learned, last about two years before they fail suddenly, giving the "blue screen of death." (Instead of a confusing error report, cheap computers should just display a message on the 730th day after purchase that says, "What do you expect for $299? Why did you think the warranty was only 90 days, lunkhead!") And because our bargain basement CPUs are not worth fixing, we store them away in the attic and trudge out to the superstore to disappoint and disgust yet another young nerdy salesman.

I don't have the time or expertise to get all our files off the computers, but I don't want to throw them away, because I'm pretty sure that somehow all those photos can be rescued from those old hard drives. So they sit in the spare room, a graveyard of useless machinery. Locked away in each of these old clunkers, along with kids' school papers and draft copies of my column, are about two years of priceless memories.

I am worried about losing those memories because I grew up in a huge family and was the seventh of nine children. My parents took some pictures of my older brothers and sisters, but by the time I came along, they were pretty tired of the whole "kid" thing. Other than mandatory school pictures, which seemed to have started in third grade and featured clip-on ties and wetted-down hair, I have almost no pictures of me as a small child. Sasquatch was photographed more than I was. There's one picture of me in the front yard wearing a beat-up cowboy hat, I think. It's pretty blurry and may have been of a sibling or a neighbor kid playing in our yard.

Because of the lack of baby pictures, I spent some time as a kid obsessed with the idea that I might have been adopted. When I confronted my parents, they produced what they assured me was a baby picture. I am in the picture, all right, but almost by accident. It's a photo of my older brothers and sisters around the tree the Christmas right after I was born. My oldest brother is holding me in his arms, but I'm turned away from the camera, and all you can see is the top of my round, bald head in the crook of his arm. My parents swore that it was me, but you can't really tell. He might have been holding a honeydew melon.

I tried to register my disappointment with my parents, but they considered the matter settled. My older brother assured me that there were no baby pictures of me because I was, as he so kindly termed it, "a strange round-headed little freak."

As an adult with children of my own, I'm a little freaked out about the idea that our kids' childhood memories might be lost for all time, a sea of bits and bytes that have bitten the dust. So I'll keep storing away the old CPUs in the hope that some day they can be jolted back to life to bring joy to future generations of my kids, sort of an electronic equivalent of Walt Disney's head.

It's important that I do it. Had my parents not been so careful and had lost that one "baby" picture, I might never have my own cherished, blurry memento of the year my older brother got a honeydew melon for Christmas.


Homemaking is a column about the people, projects and pride that make a house a home. Peter McKay, a Ben Avon resident, is a nationally syndicated columnist with Creators Syndicate. To see past columns, go to www.post-gazette.com. Contact him at www.peter-mckay.com.


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