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A Little Happier: My Surprising Trick to Re-Visit the Places from My Past

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I’m always trying to stay more connected to my memories. I feel like I don’t remember my own past very well, so I’m always happy to find tools or strategies to help my memories stay vivid.

For instance, I made an “Album of Now,” an album where I took photos of the most ordinary sights from my ordinary life – what’s in the refrigerator, what my closet looks like. I was inspired to create an Album of Now because when I’m trying to recall my past, that’s what I’d most like to look at—the scenes of my everyday life.

Taking these photos of the unremarkable scenes of my present made me yearn to revisit the unremarkable scenes from my past. But how?

Something occurred to me. Years ago, after my grandparents died, their house was sold—and it occurred to me that maybe the house had been listed on a real-estate website. I typed in their street address and, sure enough, there it was.

I stared at every picture: I could see the brick flower box by the front door, the shaded back patio where my grandfather grilled burgers and hot dogs; in a photo of the room where Elizabeth and I slept as children, I recognized the drawer-pulls, with their vaguely Western design. In a photo of the kitchen, when I glimpsed the drawer that had once held my grandparents’ metal bread box, it seemed like the ghost of its sweet, yeasty fragrance drifted by me.

On my final visit to that house, on the white kitchen counter, very close to the edge, I’d cut a narrow notch into the surface with a knife. I’d felt some kind of ancient impulse to make my mark on a beloved place that I would never visit again. I peered at the photo of the kitchen to see if I could see it, and I imagined that somehow, I could.

Later, I was telling my mother- and father-in-law about how happy I was to look again at all these familiar rooms, and so we decided to look up the house that my father-in-law grew up in. And there it was! Completely transformed, but still recognizable.

It’s so easy to forget that one day, now will be a long time ago.

Give it a try. If photographs exist, it’s a really wonderful exercise in memory.

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