GUEST COLUMN | A thousand words

The late comedian Norm McDonald once joked about how just a century and a half ago, our great grandfather was lucky if he had one photo of himself.

With the advent of cell phones, Norm pointed out that a century and a half from now, people would proudly offer to show off a million photos of their great grandfather.

It's funny because it's true.

Those who didn't grow up with an actual camera, film, and scrapbooks full of photos really have missed out on a lot.

There's something tangible about holding an old photograph. There's something real.

Recently, I was moving some framed photos around in a room in our home when I stopped to look at one photo in particular.

It was an old school picture of my grandmother when she was in grade school.

A few things struck me about this picture. It was taken almost 100 years ago. The quality of the photo was excellent. And at the time the photo was taken, most of the children in the photo were likely nearing the end of their education.

Back then in the South, most kids didn't go past the eighth grade. Young ladies were expected to learn to keep a household, find a fella, get married, and have children. Young men were expected to head back out to the fields to grow the food the family needed to eat.

I looked at the teacher in the picture. There's no way to know who he was, but he was an older man when the picture was taken. His life story was of a man who had chosen to teach children the basics they would need to make a life for themselves.

One of those children was my grandmother; a fine Christian woman who would use part of her education to help teach me when I went to school.

Whether it's the yellowing tint of the photo, the fragility of the paper, or knowing that a number of people before you have looked at the same picture; holding a picture of the past is fulfilling.

Most families have a keeper of the photos. In my family it's my mom. And like most photo keepers, my mom can go right to any photograph you want - instantly.

When I need a photo for a column or other use, I reach out to my mom and ask for a photo I remembered seeing in her scrapbook or in the Pangburn's Candy box.

Pangburn's Candy was an annual Christmas tradition. The candy ran out during the early part of the next year around the same time the holiday photos showed up in the mail.

When I ask mom for help digging out a picture, it rarely takes her longer than a half hour to snap a photo of it with her phone and text it to me.

This is where modern technology is a good thing. Digitizing our old photos now is what converting our 8 mm movies to VHS tape was 40 years ago.

It's imperative that we save our family photos, whether we do it ourselves or hire it done.

Such is the case in my family. My dad and sister are gone, leaving mom and I. Mom isn't technologically savvy, and so in my spare time I'm doing my best to convert all of the family photos to a format that will survive us both.

When I was in high school, I was a photographer for the school paper and annual. To save money, the school taught us to buy film in bulk, wind the 36-count rolls ourselves, develop it, and then print photos.

If you've never been part of this process, you really can't appreciate what we used to go through 50 years ago just to get a photograph.

Most people didn't develop and print their own photos, but they did have to have the patience to wait weeks to see if the pictures they had taken were even any good. Sometimes, you'd get back a stack of photos that were blurry or overexposed.

Today, we know instantly if a picture is what we want. We can edit it and make it better, or we can delete it and start over.

I'm still amazed that I can talk on a telephone that isn't attached to the kitchen wall. Certainly, I'm amazed that the same phone now can take a photo and send it through the air to anyone else in the world.

Other photos I've come across while shuffling pictures around include my great grandfather in his blacksmith shop during The Depression; an Easter picture of my sister, cousin and me in our Sunday best; and a picture of the legendary, but now-gone Index Bridge that spanned the Red River between Ashdown, Arkansas, and Texarkana.

All with specific memories. All worth more than gold.

Most of the people in these photos are gone now. When The Lord is ready, I will be too.

Hopefully, before then, I can complete the task of ensuring that our family's photos are converted to a format where our descendants can send them through the air to anyone else in the world.

Or maybe, they'll make a cup of coffee and dig out the Pangburn's Candy box and go through them the old fashioned way.

I think they'd like that better.

John's latest book, "Puns for Groan People," and volumes 1 and 2 of his series "Write of Passage: A Southerner's View of Then and Now" are available on his website,, where you can also send him a message and hear his weekly podcast.

©2023 John Moore

photo Columnist John Moore has been going through old photos, including one of his grandmother, Marie, (second row from front, second from left) taken in 1929 in Wallace, Ark. (Photo courtesy of John Moore)

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