When Shutterfly landed in my inbox in December 2020, I felt assaulted by their cheery message to “push rewind” and relive memories from a family trip nearly a decade ago. So many of us are flung unexpectedly into the past with emails from photo services like Shutterfly or social media feeds. And yet, those digital reminders flashing across the screen can be a compelling vortex for the bereaved. It’s hard to unsubscribe.
I wrote the first draft of the essay after staring at the two photos for as long as I could. Many months later I sketched the banana shirt (ubiquitous in family photos) and well-loved by my younger son. I could devote another essay to the banana shirt: finding it in a consignment shop, thinking I could be a hip adult in the halls of my school, rocking the spare pop art look, and giving it to my young boy instead. It was loose and soft. When my son grew and couldn’t squeeze into it anymore, he folded it carefully and ceremoniously handed it to me one afternoon. The shirt never fit me well and I no longer have it.
The photos from the Disney trip are from a digital camera, one I used on many family adventures. I could picture the compact red device in its soft black case and dug it out of a cabinet in our office. It’s a Panasonic Lumix. I thought it was a Canon.
After several rejections, I revisited and reworked the piece, adding the section about the hula hoops. I’d opened a manilla envelope I found while cleaning out a closet and pulled out the handmade sign my son made. Seeing it again sent me reeling for hours and later, I commended myself for saving it. The colorful drawing brought me back to that early August Saturday, a town-wide event with regional artists set up alongside people selling books, housewares, and plants. The main street, along Lake Champlain, was closed off for performers and food vendors. A cobalt sky and ample sun made for a perfect Adirondack day. A close friend and her younger son joined us. My parents showed up for a long visit at our booth, too. I made lots of money selling jewelry, my friend sold a shelf of books, and my son was elated and grateful.
Memories and grief are a wild blend of intoxicating in the softer moments and debilitating in the jagged-edged ones. I push myself to feel whatever gets lit up.
I changed the title from Shutterfly to Ticket to Ride, a nod to the board game my son loved and one we played as a family many times. The ending remained the same throughout the revision process, through every iteration.
You can read the essay here: INDELIBLE