Some time ago, I came upon a giant Ziploc bag filled with disposable cameras and rolls of film I’d gathered and promptly forgot about.

I really need to take these to be developed, I told myself.

And I set them aside.

And life kept happening.

And time went by.

Until I wasn’t even sure anymore how old the film was and who’d taken pictures of what.

Last summer I finally found a shop that still does same-day printing on site (do you know how hard that is to find now?). I took my film—thirteen rolls.

When I returned for the pictures, I learned that some of the film had nothing on it. The rolls hadn’t been used or they’d been exposed and the images were lost.

Many of the pictures that did come out were weirdly double-exposed. Scenes of my children when they were little, superimposed over each other, over other people.

Ghostly. Tricks of light, of time.

In the shadows, my grandmother sits with her arm around my younger son. He was three.

Eighteen years ago.

Suddenly my father’s grinning right at me from the childhood room of my older son, who’s twelve and seated beside him on the foot of the bed, playing Nintendo 64.

Daddy’s been gone for sixteen years. Died the month after my youngest started kindergarten. But this photograph turned out clear and bright; Daddy looks happy.

Fragments of life, preserved here and there, telling our stories a piece at a time.

Kind of like Grandma’s quilt.

I left the photos and went to pull it from where it’s safely stored.

Grandma made a quilt for each of her five grandchildren. In mine many of the squares are leftover scraps of material from clothes that my mother and grandmothers wore. The brown-and-white swirled pattern was once a vest and slacks, the silky coral-and-pink floral fabric, a blouse—all made by my mother. These remnants were painstakingly stitched together by my grandmother. Random parts forming a pattern, making a whole.

This old film, this quilt. Tangible memories. Remainders, reminders, of long ago. Pieces of my life, of who I am.

Kind of like DNA.

One of the things I learned with ancestry testing is that everyone can trace their maternal haploid group, because everyone has an X chromosome from their mother. When I read the narrative of my female forebears’ migration thousands of years ago, surviving the Ice Age (for, clearly, some of them did), and who knows what else . . . it was nearly overwhelming. To think of each one going before, through the ages, on and on, all the way to my being here. That even now we are trace-able patterns of each other, a virtual, long-reaching quilt, connected, continually replicating and unfolding through time.

Not being male, however, means that I have no Y chromosome haploid history to trace. This knowledge left me bereft at first. I have no brothers, my father is gone, and with him his Y-history, which forms half of my own, the migratory story of which I cannot know. Like my old film, it is obscured forever.

Yet I carry remnants of them all within me, those ancestors, male and female. I am their remnant, a whole stitched from their infinite parts, the conveyor of their continuum, the next chapter of their narrative.

And so are my children, superimposed over us all.

Like layers of memory upon memory.

As life keeps happening.

As time goes on, and on, and on.

20 thoughts on “Remnants

  1. You roll the memories
    in the palm of your
    hand, time locked
    inside a plastic shell,
    dusty from the corners
    of the side cabinet.

    You stop yourself
    from pulling the film out
    and up to the light –
    this undeveloped country
    might not survive
    the sudden pull into view —

    as if breaking the seal
    might break the magic
    of remembering

    — Kevin, a poem of wondering, inspired by your post of memories

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “Fragments of life, preserved here and there, telling our stories a piece at a time.

    Kind of like Grandma’s quilt.”
    Such beauty and brilliance! Your ability to weave a full formed story from remnants of film is amazing. Thank you for the inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Those old memories intertwined with your recollections of moments in the past are priceless. There is so much beauty here that leaves me pondering of my memories. Your quilt, photos, DNA and its significance, all tell a story inside a story. Brilliant writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Touching, Fran! So well written. So many lines, phrases stood out to me. As I read, it was as if your wandering thoughts were my own. Memories… Family stories… Old quilts. Photos. DNA. I’ve been reflecting on family… Writing more about old stories…. Wanting to preserve in words as well as pictures. Perhaps because there may be a day when my children’s children will wonder as I do and they will then know what I know…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You’ve woven so much into this post–old timey photography, memories, heirlooms, and then on to the modern science of DNA! We talk about making small moments big in writing, but you’ve done the opposite by spanning a millennia of your family’s story in one blog post. Wow!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Love this piece so much, I read it aloud to my husband. “This old film, this quilt. Tangible memories. Remainders, reminders, of long ago. Pieces of my life, of who I am. ….Kind of like DNA.” Just vivid and gripping figurative language I love the way your family is reflected in the photos, the quilt and the DNA all in one.
    The picture of your dad with our son was such a lovely find, making it all worthwhile…. I love the idea of your children superimposed like layers of memory upon memory as life keeps happening. Just amazing!!!
    When my husband heard this, he offered to find my couple of bags of throw away cameras, that I have long since lost track of.. You are making me wonder if I should try some restoration….
    Also, I want to do and the whole business about the X and Y ch had never occurred to me. I will also be limited to one side of the family.
    Your writing is so well developed. The flow is so natural and filled with grace and compassion. I look forward to reading your blog each day.
    So thankful for you!

    Liked by 1 person

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