Family History and Memory


“We were visiting a friend of my parents, an archeologist.”

Great. Fantastic. I have a vivid recollection from my father, pictured in the foreground in this picture. With a story in hand, I decided to post a triptych of this event on the W. R. Allen Instagram feed.

When I revisited this photo with my father with my father, just to confirm his memories, he gave me a different answer.

“I have no idea where this was taken. The only places we travelled to frequently were Ohio and the Mesa Verde National Park area.”

When I mentioned the possibility of an archeology dig, he did remember the family friend – a couple, actually – who were archeologists. Maybe the photo was taken in the Mesa Verde area. Maybe not.

Great. Fantastic.

What do I do? Go with the first or second answer?

The light and the typography of the photo do not suggest Ohio. I live in Michigan and have traveled throughout Ohio. Scrub brush and copper-brown of the mountain don’t exist in this part of the country.

The colors and flora of this photo do exist in the Mesa Verde area of Colorado (and northern New Mexico).

I decided to eliminate Ohio as a location.

The rocks in the front of the hatted man suggest a hole or a dig. My father thought it might be farming but the absence of farmed land in any other parts of the other photos strengthened the possibility of a archeology dig.

Memory is a tricky thing. Often what we believe becomes more poignant and real than the actual thing itself or what might have been a cool happening – visiting an archeological dig – makes no impression at all.

Marcel Proust wrote tens of thousands of words attempting to describe memory and time: the images of eating madeleine so vivid in his memory were resurrected when he ate madeleines as an adult.

But sometimes proof of a past action, in this case a photo of my father, grandmother, Scotty the dog and a hatted man, can’t be resurrected. The connection between memory and time is either lost or doesn’t exist.

Or maybe our first recollections turn out to be correct.

My family will probably never know. Both my father’s father and mother have passed. My father’s sisters are younger enough than he to have not traveled with him when he was a child.

The photo remains, as do my father’s conflicting memories. Even his memory of not knowing anything about the when or where of the picture seems like a kind of memory to me. He was there when the photos were taken. No memory is still a memory.

What then to do?

My grandfather really took a great photo  my father and grandfather and Scotty the dog and the man with the hat. The positioning of the people and his decision to squat when he took the picture make it a very visually strong photo and one I wanted to post to Instagram and include on this website.

I am a fool for hip stories and so decided that this photo could very well have been an archeological dig. Qualification seems like the honest approach. The photo may possibly be an archeological dig, in the area around Mesa Verde National Park.

My father and grandmother, possibly visiting an archeological dig in the area around Mesa Verde.

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