Is It Really You?

How quickly we grow old!

Amalia Sommer 1895

As a child, I used to hate it when relatives and friends of my parents who hadn’t seen me for a while would exclaim, “My word, haven’t you grown!” It used to make me squirm with embarrassment, though I have never really figured out what is embarrassing about having grown (upwards, that is 🙂 ).

Over the past few decades, people wanting to be kind have tended to say something along the lines of: “You haven’t changed a bit!” which has always made me wonder whether I looked sixty when I was thirty-five. (Or, in the case of a school reunion held when I was sixty-one, some people seemed to think I hadn’t changed since I was sixteen! Now that IS hard to swallow.)

We’ve been looking at old photos again, and wondering where the years have gone. I’m reminded of Kris Kristofferson’s song “This old road”, which starts and ends with “Look at that old photograph, is it really you?” Trite. Everyone does it, and many nowadays post photos of themselves in their prime as a reminder (to themselves and others) that they haven’t always been this ageing wreck you now see. I’ve done it myself.

We enjoy looking at old photos; it’s comforting to see that once we really were young and strong and not so bad looking (I won’t say “beautiful”, few of us were). And the pictures bring back memories, usually happy or funny ones, because we tend to record the good occasions rather than the sad, miserable ones. Some, with hindsight, are poignant. There’s almost always a little story attached, retold each time till the grandchildren roll their eyes in boredom but later, when the storyteller has passed on, they strive to remember – they heard it so often but have forgotten the details.

In that respect, I am more fortunate than previous generations, in that I can write down my little anecdotes on my laptop, more legible than scribbling them on bits of paper. When I’m gone, my grandchildren can decide whether they are worth keeping along with whatever family heirlooms survive. Oh yes, another one bit the dust the other day: my grandmother’s crockery mixing bowl, at least a hundred years old, suddenly fell off its perch and smashed. I don’t think it was my fault, but my mother is reproaching me for not having made sure it was safely stashed. Sorry to all my descendants! In my mother’s eyes, I am still a clumsy nine-year-old and not to be trusted.

In a sense, though, it is shocking to look at a photograph and wonder, “Is that really you?” That feeling of alienation, when you know it’s you but you can’t identify with that person.

I’ve been trying to write my memoirs, prompted by photos, old letters, souvenirs of various ilk; digging up skeletons and wondering if they wouldn’t be better left forgotten. I wrote about those feelings in a poem I posted here called “Archaeologists”, and was accused of being obscure where I thought I was being very overt. Clearly, none of the cells that make up my physical body are the ones I was born with. We are constantly renewing and discarding our components. So perhaps it isn’t really surprising that my younger selves all seem to have a separate existence from my present self. Look at that old photograph: is that really me?

Look at that old photograph
Is it really you
Smiling like a baby full of dreams
Smiling ain’t so easy now
Some are coming true
Nothing’s simple as it seems
But I guess you count your blessings with the problems
That you’re dealing with today
Like the changing of the seasons
Ain’t you come a long way (Ain’t you come a long way)
Ain’t you come a long way down
This old road

Looking at a looking glass
Running out of time
On a face you used to know
Traces of a future lost
In between the lines
One more rainbow for the road
Thinking of the faces in the windows
That you passed along the way
Or the last thing you believed in
Ain’t you come long way (Ain’t you come a long way)
Ain’t you come a long way down
This old road

Say you tried to chase the sun down
And you let it slip away
And the holy night is falling
Ain’t you come long way (Ain’t you come a long way)
Ain’t you come a long way down
This old road

Look at that old photograph
Is it really you?

© Jody Ray Publishing, Inc. (BMI) Except “Burden of Freedom” by © Careers-BMG Music Publishing (BMI)

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7 thoughts on “Is It Really You?

  1. Oha! We still have a chair in use that belonged to little baby Amalia (later of course, not when she was a baby). 🙂
    BTW: Your eyes haven’t changed.

  2. The baby photo from 1895 is lovely. Such an adorable baby!
    Thanks for publishing this beautiful photo of you and for writing this blog.
    Your writing expresses a lot of things that I have felt too.

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