Yearbooks and the Fragility of Memory

My brother and I were clearing out our family’s collection of books. We had water damage, and a few books barely avoided being soaked. Our yearbooks from elementary school, and one from high school, had all ended up in a pile. We took a look at them and figured out if we wanted to keep them or toss them. Jay came up with a compromise: we would only save the photos of us, and toss the rest. All five of us went to the same elementary school in different years, so it became a game to find my younger siblings, while spotting classmates, bullies and friends along the way. Jay and I both groaned at our bullies.

I remember yearbooks and class pictures. They used to make me feel excited. At the time, when rolls of film and disposable cameras were the norm, it seemed like a novelty that somoene would take your image and print it in a book. It made you feel like you were important, and that you can recall the happy times. People may also print images in the books that they consider memorable.


Digital technology might have changed this. We may not see the value in printed images when they can exist on our computer at any time. Or, it may be that when we hear of school pictures, we fear the ridicule rather than enjoy the glamour.

Memory is also fallible. I remember contant parent-teacher conferences about my behavior, getting teased for my lack of social skills, and bugging my family. My brother remembers me as a cute kid, and a classmate said I was quiet and never gave people troble. Then there were the notes people left behind. The one above is from my kindergarten teachers, whom I mainly remember from my mother’s horror stories. 

It’s interesting how we’ve changed. I feel jaded when I look for the photos that used to make me feel so excited. Part of me wonders how much money went into printing each book. In high school, we could have a book if we paid eighty dollars for one. We have a handful of them at home for our graduation, since mainly seniors got huge profile photos. I also dislike who I used to be as a child, though I also miss how daring I used to be.

Who are we, when we want to forget our childhood? And who are we when we can’t remember who we were? I guess we only find out as we occasionally look back.

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