Lance Brett Hall

Stories Make Meaning. How Do We Make Stories?

Paper Memories


This past weekend, my wife Megan’s family laid her maternal grandmother, Betty Minck, to rest.

My wife has an incredible memory for personal detail, and it’s no surprise that she took it on herself to curate some photographs to display for the memorial.

I escort Betty to her seat at our wedding. Her husband, my grandfather-in-law, is behind us. (Yes, we have a hard copy of this now.)
I learned a lot about my wife and her family and history just helping her rummage through photographs. We combed through everything from my mother-in-law’s high school days up until my wife in junior high.

Then, something curious happened.

The photos stopped.

The day before we left for the funeral, we realized that we didn’t have a physical photograph of Megan’s grandma at our wedding. From our home in Chicago, we ordered 4″ x 6″ prints of three pictures. We had them printed at a Walgreen’s in LaSalle, Illinois, the same town where my mother-in-law lives.

As others shared their photos of Betty’s life at the memorial, we realized that there really weren’t many photos taken after 2000. More pictures certainly exist of her (somewhere), but they didn’t exist in the real world. They were all digital, and they just weren’t available when people needed them.

A paper photo certainly isn’t more durable than a digital image. I can store endless and perfect copies of our wedding photos on indefinitely successive machines. A paper photo isn’t easier to work with. I had hard copies made 100 miles away from my home for $0.40 each.

The thing about a paper photo is that it’s real. Betty Minck and my great-grandfather Swanson and my 13-year-old self at Disney World aren’t here any more, but their photos are. I can touch them. Because I can touch them and rifle through them, there’s a better chance for serendipity. Isn’t that a lot of what memories are made of?