My great-grandfather came over to San Francisco from Ireland back in 1911. He came from stereotypical Irish stock: lover of storytelling, lover of the drink, lover of the dance, lover of big families, and Catholic just to be safe. I didn't know it while living there, but back at my old apartment on Funston Avenue, I was living a mere two blocks away from where my great-grandfather had bought the house my grandfather would spend his childhood.
I wish I knew more about my family, but that's what my oldest brother's for. He has painstakingly documented our family history on paper. It's all too much for me to keep track of. But the part I do love is the pictures.
I've always loved photographs, and the older the photograph, the better. I love staring into those sepia eyes of family members who died well before I was even conceived, trying to read their glance for some sign of what their life was like.
What were they thinking at that very moment? Who took their picture? Who was their best friend? What did they listen to on the radio? What did they have for dinner that night? Were they happy? Were they in pain? Did they love their spouse? I know marriage was all so much different back then. It would be nice to know there was at least love involved.
Each picture I see of my family fills me with a plethora of imagined stories about their lives. Whether they're true or not, I'll never know: I know they say a picture's worth a thousand words and all that, but a thousand words isn't much when trying to capture a lifetime.
What I do know is seeing all the pictures taken in restaurants and nightclubs of my grandmother with my grandfather and a circle of friends--silver cigarette cases on the table with silk evening gowns and hair carefully coiffed--inspired me to enjoy the finer side of city nightlife. Thank you, Grandma, for passing down your love of cocktails and dress-up to me.
|A picture of my grandmother and grandfather Mahoney.|
Photo courtesy of my brother's website.
Anyway, the point of all this is I believe in photographs. I believe in the memories they preserve, even if it's only a partial memory. I believe in the stories they inspire. And I believe that one day, my grandchildren will be thankful that I obsessively documented everything. Which is why, at our family reunion a couple of weeks ago, I spent the entire time taking photographs. Photographs of family members so far removed, many of us had never met before. All because two Irish people had a baby.
Anyway, here's some of the photographs from the day: