We treasure family photos not only because they illuminate the past, but also because they can offer up an alternative narrative to the stories we tell — and retell — about our identities.
This is true for author Gail Lukasik, who was just as captivated by what was left out of her parents’ snapshots as by the faces and stories they portrayed. Growing up in suburban Ohio, Lukasik puzzled over why there were so few pictures of her mother’s side of the family. In the stack of family photo albums, there were only a handful of black-and-white prints of relatives from New Orleans, where her mother, Alvera (Frederic) Kalina, had lived in the 1920s,1930s and 1940s. “I felt very close to my mother, but she had a certain mystery,” she says. “When I used to ask her about that she’d say, ‘Oh I just don’t have any,’ which I thought was strange.” Her mother’s guardedness about her own family’s origins were yet another layer to their already complex relationship.