But it was the sight of our many family photos that almost brought me to tears.
It had been so long since we’d displayed family photos, other than the occasional snapshot from a recent vacation or the kids’ yearly school pictures. Many of our possessions had remained in storage from the time we’d sold our own home throughout the four years we lived in a rental house, because each time we re-signed the year-long lease, we thought we’d be staying only one more year, and we told ourselves it wasn’t worth the trouble to unpack all those boxes.
But now I can’t stop gazing at the arrangement of family photos that my husband and daughter finished setting up last weekend, because I had no idea how much I’d missed them.
When I thought about it, though, I realized that it had actually been well over four years since I’d seen these photos. The last house we owned was on the market for nearly a year, and our realtor had told us early in the staging process to put away all family photos. “You want potential buyers to picture themselves in this house, not you,” she said. “When people see personal things like photos around, it feels too much like another family lives here.”
At the time, it seemed like more random advice that realtors give – no different from putting out fresh flowers or toasting almonds before an open house to emit an aroma of baking – but ironically, only now that we ourselves live in a house that recently belonged to someone else and those same photos I once had to hide away grace our new rooms do I realize how right she was. Seeing those images again gives our family a tangibility that I didn’t even realize was missing during the years the photos were in storage.
Because at the time, I told myself I didn’t care about all those belongings relegated to the basement. Not having our wedding china out meant we didn’t feel obligated to do formal entertaining. Keeping the telescope unassembled and packed away gave us an excuse to put off learning about astronomy. And the photos were one less thing to dust, I rationalized.
Once or twice while we lived in the rental house, I did say to Rick, “It would be nice to have just one wedding portrait out.” But he pointed out that finding one wedding portrait would probably mean unpacking and repacking five or six boxes, since we hadn’t labeled them all that carefully, and I always gave up on the idea before I got around to doing the actual work of finding the picture I wanted.
But indeed, not having the familiar photos of gatherings, parties, vacations, beach trips, bike rides, sledding, and holidays made me feel as if my family was, on some level, an artifice. It somehow seemed fitting that the only photos in our home during that time were the annually reconstituted school photos, as if we as a family were as superficially posed and falsely colored as those maddeningly fake images, with their comb marks showing in the kids’ normally uncombed hair and the anodyne plum-colored background screen.
Now the family photos are out once again, and like the Velveteen Rabbit, I feel real again. Yes, my family is all around me in the flesh just as it has always been, but also in reflected images of so many happy times from the past. Perhaps that shouldn’t matter. Perhaps all that should really matter is the real living versions of ourselves, not the framed images.
But somehow it does matter. Just as our realtor said, having photos around the house makes it seem like a family lives there. And in this case, now that we are settling into a home where we plan to stay, rather than trying to attract potential buyers to one we need to leave, that’s precisely the feeling we want.