The years go by quickly and the little moments go by even quicker. I’ve always loved look through old letters, antique shops and photos. It doesn’t matter to me if I knew the people or not, but it makes it even more special when I do.
Years ago, I came across an old photo of my grandparents in their mid 20’s. I laughed at the hairstyles and their clothes, it was the mid 50’s and everyone had a perm and shoulder pads. Looking back, I’ve learned that these little moments are the ones that I long for more than anything. The older I’ve gotten, the more I wish I could see what my parents and grandparents were like in their youth – before dementia, old age and forgetfulness took hold on their memories.
My grandmother passed away almost a decade ago, far too young and far too sick at the ripe age of 72. She left behind my grandfather, now 86, who’s been battling dementia for the better part of a year. It’s hard watching him forget who I am, harder still when I think about the photos, but still I love to do it. When I pour over old photos, I try to pick out little bits of myself in my grandparents, just to see that they will always be with me.
Recently, I came across my nonno’s immigration papers, along with some photos from his early 20’s. He passed away a couple months before my son was born and I was devastated. He was 87 and, despite his age, had all his faculties. I wish that I had spent more time listening to the stories, the struggles and the mundane everyday things he used to do. The truth is, like most kids, I didn’t appreciate the wealth of knowledge I had right in front of me.
He left Italy at 21, the same age as my little brother, got on a boat alone. He arrived in a foreign country, halfway across the world, without any friends or family and no knowledge of the language. I’m almost 28 and I don’t think I could manage that now without help. So now, despite it all, I treasure the memories and moments that were captured in photos, passports and old letters. Even if it might seem like junk to someone else, it makes me feel like they’re a little bit closer for a little bit longer.
Is my guilty pleasure history? Maybe. It might just be trying to imagine the moments I never experienced, in either case, I’ll soak it all up for as long as I can.