Jamie Keiles is a writer for Rookie Mag, the most incredible teen magazine that you never had when you were growing up. In her spare time, she stresses about things she can’t control, enthuses over condiments, and attends the University of Chicago. You can find her on the Internet on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook.
Pictures from my mom’s childhood look like stills from a movie that was never made. Everyone is impeccably costumed. Messy hair looks weirdly premeditated. The images themselves have that delightfully soft, Sofia Coppola shade.
I’ve always sort of resented the kind of people that idealize the past. People who scrape all the difficult things off the timeline of history and look back on the “olden days” as some sort of pristine, sepia-toned diorama. I can see how it happens, though. People don’t really take photos at funerals and divorce proceedings, so when the only images of the past are holidays and birthdays, it can be hard not to flatten things out.
Nobody in my family was particularly adept at art, so when I leaf through plastic shoeboxes of family photographs, I’m continually surprised at how well each shot curves a narrative arc without words or sound. My old family photos tell stories, but not ones that are true or important. They capture happy moments in a vacuum. Exposition without plot. Though aesthetically wonderful, they don’t say anything with context to link them to consequences and people. In choosing objects from Etsy to feature, I tried to pick things that established a link between the visual appeal of the pictures and their meaning as they relate to my own personal history.
[Clockwise from left: Vintage 1960s pink shift dress from saintannevintage; Vintage Italian celluloid sunglasses from TheGreenPoet; Kodachrome Film Instructions from Rainy Day Supplies; Eastern Airlines souvenir wings from BearsFoundTreasures; Bottega Veneta woven shoulder bag from SkinandWood]
My Uncle Norman owned a dress shop, so when my Mom-Mom liked a dress, she got it in every color. Everyone always said my great-great-Aunt Bea had a unique sense of style, but when I look at her in old photos, she only really seems as fashionable as everyone else.
My family was always dressing up and going places. Carrying bags filled with toiletries. Landing or taking off. This was all way back before 9/11, though, when they all got too scared to fly.
[Clockwise from top right: Yellow shoelaces on Etsy; 1970s Skippy jar from DebsCollectibles; Vintage 1960s Peignoir from olderthanyouare; Antique roller skates with case from HousingAuthority; Vintage metal roller skate key from VintageStarr]
My grandmother and her sister raised their families in identical houses along a shared driveway, the sort of arrangement made for sitcoms and sitcom antics like skating in the kitchen in your nightgown.
My grandmother met my grandpa on a street corner outside a skating rink. She made thousands of peanut butter sandwiches in this kitchen for my uncle, who didn’t eat an interesting food until he turned 30.
[Clockwise from top left: Vintage bagel platter from VeejaysVintage; Homemade challah bread from flowerpowercolorado; Vintage Manischewitz macaroon tin from needfuljunque; Bagel soaps from ajsweetsoap]
I’m not sure if anyone in my Mom’s family was ever formally religious, but all of my relatives worshipped at the temple of the well-manicured platter. Celebrations have always been accompanied by a fish platter from Ben and Irv’s Delicatessen on County Line Road. Bagels came with lox. Tuna came with tablespoons of mayo. I guess those wide collars were for catching all the crumbs.
[Clockwise from top left: Vintage 1970s Adidas shirt from YeYe; Vintage playing cards from sorrythankyou79; Vintage mid-century sunflower yellow chair from The Wired Goat; “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche” book from Paumanok Collection; Track shorts from; Blue canvas shoes from VacationVintage]
My mom never played a sport in her life but dressed like a track star for a lot of the seventies; I suppose because she went to summer camp. When she talks about her childhood home, emphasis is always placed on the green and mustard color scheme and the fact that my Mom-Mom tamed the shag rug with a rake. She also kept a deck of cards in her nightstand drawer. Sometimes when I was a kid we’d stay up late and play Go Fish and watch the 11 o’clock news.