While having dinner with a friend, we got on the subject of scrapbooking. She said that she went to a scrapbooking party (which are called “crops”) and all of the women were “80 something.” Scrapbooking has long been considering a grandma’s hobby and to be more specific a white woman’s activity. So how did I find myself in this foreign world 10 years ago? Especially since I didn’t have any children.
One of my family members passed away, and we were looking through the shoe boxes of faded photographs. She had taken the liberty of recording some of the basics: names and ages on the back of the photos. But the majority of the photos were not labeled, or the labels had been rubbed off. It became a game to try to guess which of her children was posing in the photo. We certainly couldn’t tell where exactly the photo had been taken as it is nearly impossible to differentiate a tree in Arkansas from a tree in Missouri. It was at that moment that I decided I wanted to be a scrapbooker. I wanted to preserve not only the photos — but the stories.
We’ve all been to an older person’s home. They usually have a ton of dusty frames on bookshelves. There are volumes of old photo albums; you know, the ones where the photo clings to the page. There are always the classic photos of the military men, the proms, and the grandchildren. If we look closer, the older person starts talking about the history: “that is your great uncle …” or “your second cousin ….” After about 10 – 15 minutes, you learn something new about your family that you didn’t know before. African American culture is an oral culture, so most of our cultural history has been transported by word of mouth. I feared that, if I didn’t start writing things down certain, memories would be lost.
Although I don’t have any children of my own yet, memory keeping has been an essential part of my life because it helps me to keep things in perspective. In this society where materialism reigns supreme, it can be easy to lose site of all of the things we have accomplished: graduating from high school, graduating from college, and being gainfully employed. In December of 2011, I lost my first child due to a miscarriage at 5 months, and it was through my scrapbooks that I prayed for myself and memorialized my unborn baby girl. I was able to light my way out of the darkness.
It also helps me to live a more mindful life. I notice things that float across most people’s heads. From the flowers that bloomed a bit too early because of the record high weather we had in March to the way my step daughter tilts her head when it’s time to take a picture, it’s all recorded. She has “mastered” the art of posing at four.
Finally, it is my “paper trail.” When I am no longer walking this earth, someone will be able to follow the love story, first hand, that my husband and I share through the post cards that we exchange when he travels for work. Someone will be able to read about historical events because I include articles from newspapers and magazines in my albums; for example, an article about Mayor Daley retiring from Chicago after 20+ years in office or the Trayvon Martin case. My children and grandchildren will be able to see not only the type of woman that I was, but they will have an alternative view on some of the events that they will hear about in history classes.
Similar to quilts, journals, and letter writing, scrapbooking allows us to affirm ourselves, literally leaving a legacy for the future.