My cousin Siobhan and her husband Robert recently scanned, snap by snap, a treasure chest of old photographs that had belonged to my mother and father, and recently they gave me a memory stick with literally hundreds of images on it. Many of them were their own, but there were dozens of mum and dad's shots on there. I'm hugely grateful to them for this - it must have taken days to get through them all.
It has been a joy to go through them - like Christmas morning when you got that big fat annual, packed with comic strips - and you couldn't put it down.
(The pictures above are - my mother and I outside the back door of our first real 'house' at 6 Hawthorn Place, Harpur's Hill, Coleraine; My mother and father and I with my paternal grandmother Mary Toner, at Churchill Park, Coleraine; my mother's family, with her parents Robert and Margaret (I think my mum is on the far right) near their home on the Murder Hole Road between Coleraine and Limavady; and my mother, I think outside her first job, at a bakery on Railway Road in Coleraine, late 50s early 60s)
What is revealed, actually, is the messy, big-hearted sprawl that a family can make over the years - they spread themselves out over the years and the seasons and the townlands and the occasions. There are pictures here from the 30s, right up through four, maybe even five generations. And there are mystery faces among the black and whites, some amazing fashions and just... smiles for miles. My mother and family both came from big families (11 on each side), and when they got together to celebrate, these people took up a LOT of room.
My parents took photographs at almost every occasion - and our house always had a drawer full of those big-bellied Belmont Photographic envelopes, packed with amateur snaps of the weddings of my million cousins. When you scrolled through the pictures, they would always start off with people looking fantastic, wonderfully dressed and groomed outside churches, and always end in pictures of chaos - bottles, cans, cigarettes, ties at half mast, eyes glazed. They had an enormous talent for having a good time, my folks.
Now that my mother is gone, and my father is increasingly out of reach, these pictures are a bridge back for me. And not a tearful journey, either - I have a sense of joy and love looking back at these snaps. I mostly remember having a good time - we loved each other and we ALL had a pretty good time, actually, and I think the pictures tell that story.