I grew up poring through photos. Yellow, faded, and crumbling.
I held those images in my hands like treasures from the past. In those photos I saw smiling ghosts of youthful men that looked vaguely similar to the old men I saw at weddings and funerals. The smiling eyes of women with tiny waists peered at me from those photos the same way my chubby old Tias would smile at me when I would run into their comfortable tummies for a hug.
Some nights, out of nowhere, my mom would pull the boxes of photos out to remember. I would hear the rustling and smell the familiar scent of decaying photo paper filling the air. I would walk into her room, sit on the floor beside the boxes, and start looking for my favorites.
The images were like old friends. There's the one of mom in her quinceanera dress, a tiny little purse in the crook of her arm. There's one of Nana dancing with my Papa at my parents' wedding, her hair pulled back and wrapped by a fake braid. My dad still had hair then. It was thinning, but it was still there. He was so handsome... as handsome as he was smart... and arrogant. There was an old photo of Tio Chacho (short for Muchacho, not his real name, Arturo) and his college friends jumping into a pool. One of the boys had shorts that said Mesa College, a junior college here in San Diego. They were young and carefree. Unmarried and unmarred by life. In semi-transparent envelopes were the images we all held our breath when pulling out. Those were the oldest photos. They were of soldiers wearing grim looks on their faces and guns on their belts. Others were of bodies being carried off the battlefield in old wooden flatbed wagons. They were images of the Mexican Revolution.
Then there were the ones of the old cars. Everyone was so proud of their cars. Cars were big and bold and full of personality. Young girls posed with their boys all around the cars, smiling innocently. There's a missing picture in the collection of car photos. The one car in particular that was only seen in the retelling of stories was the car that moved my Chihuahua New Mexico border family out to Southern California.
Nana didn't have a photo of that car, but her descriptions of the Model T were so vivid, I could see it in my mind. She loved telling us about her father's Model T. How it came to them by train to New Mexico. How special they all felt when it was delivered to their family. He and my great-grandmother packed Nana and her little brother and all their meager belongings into that car, driving the road that ran along the same railroad that brought their car. They drove towards the sun for days, finally meeting up with cousins that had found work in LA. They didn't stay long. Might have been too much city for my serious great-grandfather. They headed down the coast to Orange County, settling for a while in San Juan Capistrano.
The kids (eventually there were seven) went to school at the mission. It was the same mission I would go on a school field trip forty years later to. Twenty more years passed before my older daughters and I called Capistrano our home. On weekends when the girls went to visit their dad, I would take long bike rides on the same trails that my Nana walked on. She was the oldest of her siblings and cousins, and so she was the leader that lead them through the old orange groves and along the riverbed to Doheny Beach for a day at the water. I could almost see them. I knew what they all looked like... what they wore... how they carried the day's food. I could picture it like it was my own memory. In a way it was.
My memories of all those yellow, faded, crumbling photos.