Eudora Welty said, “A good snapshot stops a moment from running away.”
But what if your photos are hidden away — in shoeboxes, undeveloped film in old cameras or sitting on the hard drive? The moments they represent aren’t readily accessible.
Bridgett Siter, e-commerce marketing specialist with the Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation, has spent more than two dozen years as a military wife. Early in her husband’s career, she learned the importance of preserving memories for posterity, she said.
For those who want to remember their story — and possibly even share it with future generations — Siter offers a few basic tips on recording and retaining those memories.
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1) Get organized.
It doesn’t have to be fancy, but you should bring a camera with you everywhere — you never know when an ordinary outing will turn into something extraordinary. Consider keeping a disposable camera stored in the car for “emergency” photo ops.
“Nothing tells (stories) better than photos,” Siter said. “They make the best souvenirs of all.”
Take a variety of pictures. Capture close up photos of family and panoramic shots of the scenery. 2) Get it out on paper.
Back up your pictures for safekeeping on a computer, but be sure to print out several for display.Scrapbooking, which Siter picked up several years ago, is a way to document photos and memorabilia with a creative flair — decorative embellishments personalize the pages and can convey a specific theme to the assembled pictures.
“After all this time, I’ve discovered my kids absolutely love that I’m scrapbooking,” she said. “It means something to them.”
3) Think 3D.
But there are plenty of ways to preserve your memories without touching a sticker or stamp. Collect letters, certificates, ticket stubs and travel brochures to store in albums with corresponding photos. An old Army uniform can be used to make a bag, and military coins work well displayed in shadow boxes.
Siter saved her kids’ ball shirts to use in a quilt when they’re older. She also kept her daughters’ baby calendars, hospital dresses, armbands, caps and notes from family members in a time capsule to be opened by them as adults.
“A collection doesn’t have to be a burden,” said Siter, who has lived in nearly 20 homes during her husband’s military career and understands the need for PCSing families to travel light.
She suggests making the memorabilia manageable. Scan down your Soldier’s certificates and your kids’ artwork to fit them in an album, on a scrapbook page or in a framed collage.
4) Write it down.
“Journaling,” as it’s called in the world of crafting, lets you record additional thoughts and impressions about an experience. At a minimum, make sure to document names, dates and what’s going on and where in each picture, Siter said.
“Family photos mean the world to me,” she said. “Personally, I think there’s nothing as sad as coming across a great old photo and not knowing who it is or the story behind the photo.”
Keep a small notebook with you when you’re out for the evening or on vacation to write down highlights, whether it’s the rides you went on at Disney World or the fancy entrée you ordered at your anniversary dinner.
When words fail you, use a quote. It may be something your child blurted out, a friend’s favorite expression or popular song lyrics that sums up the whole event where paragraphs fall short.
5) Involve the kids.
If there are special youngsters in your life, put a pen — or crayon — in their hands and let them be the writer. Have them write their favorite things, what they thought of their first day of school or a Christmas wish list.
“The misspellings and the handwriting and all of that is so cool saved and put in scrapbook,” said Siter, who has held onto a note calling her “the beast mommy in the world” and a coupon to help with the “londry,” among other keepsakes. “It’s little things like that. It’s yours. It’s personal.”
Siter extended this concept by giving travel logs to her children. Her daughters, who stuck with it for the long haul, have a list of things they never thought they’d do, including climbing the Eiffel Tower and being an extra in a movie.
6) Don’t forget the ordinary.
It’s the casual, commonplace things of life that you’ll cherish with nostalgia years from now, Siter said.
“In the military, when you move around so often you want to remember what that house looked like. You want to remember your favorite restaurant at Fort Bragg or the park you went to at Fort Drum,” she said. “The mundane to us everyday will one day be a great memory.”
So how can you capture everyday life? Take pictures of your environment — work, school and play. If you scrapbook, don’t always crop away the background, which may include old furniture, a local shop or something else from bygone years, Siter said.
Pick up something from every installation you live at to document your Army travels. Siter has collected menus from her favorite restaurants over the years and framed them as unique artwork in her home.
The photos, awards, drawings, maps, newspaper clippings and other trinkets from today can lift your spirits tomorrow just by reminding you of your journey, Siter said.
“When you step back and view your life as a military family member see all the exciting things you’ve done and all the places you’ve been it’s pretty amazing,” she said. “It’s one of a kind.”