My parents had always taken photographs of me, my brother and my sisters when we were growing up. But not just normal holographic photographs that we have now. Old photographs from an ancient camera on their even older phones.
They even went to the painstaking effort of printing off every single photo on this shiny photograph paper and sticking them into countless photo albums.
And that is what I have found myself sorting out in the eerily quiet and empty house. It just isn’t the same without them here. Without them laughing, talking, singing along to their songs. I shift to a crossed-legged position, a habit I had picked up from my Mum who often sat crossed legged if she could, as I pulled the first photograph album out of the bookcase.
It wouldn’t hurt to stop sorting out my parents’ things and have a quick look inside.
For old times sake.
I turn over the first page and am greeted by my parents, a mismatch of weather, countries, and timezones.
This must have been before they were married when they were dating on other sides of the Atlantic.
It looks like one of them took a photograph whilst they were on a video call with one another. The photographs are split perfectly into two cells, one trapping Mum and the other Dad. Both smiling and laughing at whatever had been said that the photograph couldn’t capture.
My Mum, when showing me the photograph albums, always explained to me that these photographs were not in a specific order but all of these were taken before she travelled to America for the first time. To see Dad for the first time in person. You could always tell though when you were about to reach the photographs of her first trip to America due to a single photograph held in place on each side of the photograph album.
On the left side of the photograph album held my Mum’s favourite photo of her and Dad. Strangely enough, Mum’s fast asleep. Her eyes closed as she peacefully dreamt away the night, unaware of what Dad was showing her. You can’t see Dad in this photograph either. But that’s not the point of this screenshot in time. The point of this photograph is what my Dad is holding. A heart-shaped rock. That’s why it is my Mum’s favourite.
Even though she is asleep and unaware of what was happening, Dad still shows her that he loves her.
That’s the night she knew she was going to marry him.
No one had shown her that much love before.
On the right side of the photograph album, was my Dad’s favourite photograph of him and Mum. Once again, the photograph is split in two. On the right side, Dad was captured wearing his signature baseball cap.
In most photographs he is always wearing a hat, even when I was growing up you would often find him in a cap. And if you didn’t, his cap would not be too far away.
I recognised the faded brown leather jacket as my own, the same one that I had borrowed from my Mum. I laugh at the thought that my Mum had done the same thing at some point in their relationship, where she borrowed his leather jacket and kept it as hers.
My Dad’s face is red from laughter, his smile reaching his sea-blue eyes that could never decide if they were actually blue or green. His dimples peeking out from underneath his ginger beard, those dimples can only be seen when he is truly happy. Mum, of course, is reciprocating the smile. But the reason for this being my Dad’s favourite is my Mum’s eyes. The clearest blue eyes that just draws you in, makes you want to look closer, deeper into them. I never understood why before, but I do now. There’s a sparkle in them. A sparkle she always has when she looks at Dad.
I can’t believe he actually captured it.
The sparkle in the eyes that you have when you look at someone you love.
But it’s more than just love.
Your eyes only sparkle like that when you are with your other half.
That’s why it is his favourite photograph.
No one had looked at him with that much love before.
My parents have always told us to be careful with our hearts, they are fragile and easily broken. And when they break it can take a lifetime to heal completely. That’s why you should fall in love with someone who shows you that they love you even when you don’t expect it and look at you like you are their entire world.
I didn’t quite understand what they meant when I was a child.
But I do now.
Now that I’ve had heartbreaks. I’ve loved and lost.
Now that I have a person that I call home. A husband that adores me and looks at me like there’s no one else in the whole universe.
I can’t help but turn to the next page of the photograph album. Mum’s first trip to America.
A packed suitcase.
A negative Covid test.
A British passport
A selfie of my Mum, her dirty blonde hair billowing in the cold January wind. The streaks of ginger, that she always denied, were clearly visible. Her blue and purple flowery galaxy backpack resting on her shoulders, carrying the weight of anticipation of going to America. Of seeing my Dad in person. Her suitcase was being pulled behind her, just about visible in the photograph. But what was visible was her right hand pulling the suitcase. Her white knuckles transferred her anxiety into the suitcase that was grounding her. Even though her anxiety was sky high, just as high as her anticipation, the smile gracing her eyes was genuine. Her actual smile was smothered by the mask covering her mouth and nose. A glint of hope and love sparkled in the bright blue eyes as people mulled around her, dragging their own suitcases, catching the trains pulling up to the train station.
The train tickets.
But not just a photo of the train tickets, the actual train tickets. Carefully glued behind the protective clear film of the photograph album.
The plane tickets, but just like the train tickets, the actual plane tickets are perfectly placed into the photograph album.
And then there they were. Mum and Dad together in person, at last. Mum explained that she went to America after being together with Dad for just over a year. To me, they should have met in person a long time before they actually did. After seeing all the video calls through screenshots, it was about time that they met in person.
Fingers entwined as hands were held. Mum and Dad walking to an unknown destination. Grandma's engagement ring that Mum wore as a sign of how much love she had for Dad glinting in the cold February sun.
Dale Hollow Lake.
The lights of Nashville out of a car window.
A bowling alley.
A pool table with my Dad leaning over the table completely unaware that Mum was taking a photograph. All his concentration was on the shot he was taking.
I couldn't help but smile at the memory that popped into my head. When I was a child and Mum was showing us through the photograph albums, I would sit on my Dad’s knee. Whenever we reached that photograph of him playing pool, he would always lean in and whisper in my ear.
“And Dad won”
Dairy Queen ice cream.
A flour-covered Dad, Mum’s handprints dusted white on his red hoodie. My mum’s arms are wrapped around his waist. More flour is dusting her than what could possibly be in whatever she baked. My Dad’s arm pulled Mum closer into him.
In between the photographs, receipts from fast food, restaurants, and bars. The ones that Mum managed to pay for. But they were few and far between as Dad, ever being the gentleman that he was, refused to allow Mum to pay for anything.
The photographs split in two, screenshots from a video call connecting two lovers across the Atlantic returned too quickly in my opinion, as the photograph album neared the end.
A positive pregnancy test.
Pictures from a scan showing that Mum was indeed pregnant. The original ones.
As I closed the photograph album and placed it carefully into a cardboard box that was going to be sent to America with my parents, who had decided to move back to Celina. Move back home to the one in America.
I realised that this was more than just a photograph album.
It was a book of memories.