Redefining Loss
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Recapturing Our Lost Riches (back by popular demand)

Recapturing Our Lost Riches (back by popular demand)

As a young child, I would sneak out to the garage when my adoptive parents weren’t home and find the “hidden pictures.” It was as if there were a sign on the door stating, “PRIVATE – KEEP OUT,” but the temptation was just too great. I remember staring in awe at each black and white photo tucked away in the unlabeled box like a wide-eyed kid overwhelmed by a bigger-than-life chocolate sundae.

“Oh, look,” I would whisper as I held it close for that moment … one more picture of memories that weren’t mine to keep.

In the early ‘60s, my adoptive parents’ marriage ended. After their divorce, my adoptive mother remarried a medical doctor. I did not understand why family photos from my first six years of life had to be taken away from me. An unspoken vow of silence by my adoptive mother created negative feelings that images of the past were somehow supposed to be shameful secrets.

I never knew what happened to my displaced childhood memories. Someone must have discovered that I was trespassing into that box. The “forbidden pictures” were then placed completely out of my reach, like a cookie jar sitting on top of a high shelf.

There have been times in my life when I needed to recapture those lost pictures. I’ve longed to know how much my daughters resembled me as a child from that first glimpse of a brand-new life to our five-year-old toothless grins. As I recall, I didn’t analyze the pictures to find someone to blame for my adoptive parents’ failed marriage, but rather to find good memories that a child could hold onto.

Sometimes the deepest desires of our hearts are answered years later in unexpected, triumphant ways.

“Don’t forget to ask my brother if he found any more photos,” I yelled out to my husband as he drove off on a business trip that would include a short visit to my relative’s home. My oldest brother had the task of sorting through our late parents’ possessions and finding new homes for their belongings. What I hoped to reclaim were the lost keepsakes … the valuable memories that I believed were rightfully mine.

After returning home from his trip, my husband handed me “little snippets of my childhood” that my brother thought I would cherish. One of the estate items that he had set aside for me was my stepfather’s old fishing pole. Teary-eyed, I held on tightly to the sentimental memories while reminiscing about those special times we had shared together. While I was lost in a little girl’s dreams, my husband then placed in my lap a small cardboard box. Printed neatly on the top in my sister-in-law’s handwriting were the words, “For JoAnne.” All that this gift seemed to be missing was a bow and wrapping paper. I slowly opened the box, wondering what long-ago treasures might be inside.

“Oh my!” I squealed as if I had been playing pirates with my brothers and we had just discovered part of our lost riches. I felt like I was sifting through sand as I cupped a box full of our family’s photos in my hands. With a giggle, I would take each small slide and look up toward the light to see if I could recognize the images. I do recall having seen some of the snapshots. But many of these slides, which I had never known existed until this moment, brought back fond memories that were saved with a click of the camera.

I was completely overwhelmed by this kaleidoscope of pictures that abruptly started from the age of seven, when my adoptive mother married my stepfather, and then sporadically up until I was pregnant with my first child. My daughters will take me more seriously the next time I tell them that I was in water ballet. I can’t stop laughing when I see myself as a young girl sitting on the side of a pool all decked out in my swimming cap decorated with artificial flowers, or when I am practicing casting, out over the side of the hill with my new Zebco fishing pole.

It’s the little things in life that are often taken for granted that have always meant so much to me. I would trade all the money in this world to get back the “hidden” photos from the first six years of my life that I presume were discarded. I want to hold on to the good memories with the pure and innocent heart of a child. I need to remember the joy, despite the losses.

27. Make a joyful book. Fill a small album with photos and stories that evoke your happiest memories.

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  1. Oh, I am so sad for those girls. To have lost you once because of their mother’s decision, and then to have lost you again because of their own short-sightedness. They really missed out. I’m sorry you did, too 🙁
  2. So sad, what a terrible experience. and I know it was only one of many for you. Love you friend!!!
  3. This fills me with sadness: “No child should have to continually try to make a parent love them.” What a tragedy that your mother was not able to accept love from you. My guess is that deep down, she didn’t feel lovable, and she had to cover that shameful fact up with a bunch of br…
  4. It’s insane that these findings were made but nothing was done about it. All these years later, you are still waiting for the wrongs to be righted.
  5. I love you❤