The Power of Photos

I was a speed typist by the eighth grade, making me the most desirable of the sisters to work at Dad’s growing architecture firm. I was employed long before the age of 15. It’s fun when you are eight-years-old running around the dining room table collating brochures, but not so entertaining when it’s summer vacation from middle school and your Dad is dragging you to the office at 5 a.m.  Completely ignoring my surly attitude, he always began every ride with, “This is just the best part of the day!”

As a 66-year-old I realize the wealth of knowledge I have about business came from those rides. Though a quiet man, in those early morning hours Dad would pass on nuggets of wisdom that continue to carry me through my life. But one thing he rarely spoke of… Korea*. Uncle Sam came for him right after graduating from Architecture School. He was a lieutenant in charge of a division that went ahead of the troops to disable landmines.  They built bridges. They blew up bridges. They slept on cots, and ate off dirty melamine plates.  In one of our few conversations he told me, “You can’t even imagine the horror by day or the terror by night.”

He had his own post traumatic quirks.  We couldn’t run the vacuum when he was home. Dishes had to run through the sterilizing dishwasher cycle… and if the machine broke down he somehow had one delivered and installed before day’s end. I never asked why on the vacuum, but in my college years Dad told me that during his entire time of service, eating in less than sanitary conditions, he experienced diarrhea every single day.

It’s been a decade since Dad’s passing. Out of nowhere this week, cousin Charlie stopped by with a Zip-lock bag with almost 100 black and white photos of Dad’s time in the Korea. Back in the day, photos were not stored in the Cloud, but tucked away in some Sterilite basement bin. The stash was in Aunt Janet’s basement. When Charlie left, I sat down almost overwhelmed at the treasure. The saying is true.

We take photos as a return ticket to a moment otherwise gone.

Pouring over the pile was the evidence of the life Dad had briefly described – the tents, the desolate war-torn geography. But they also gave evidence to my dad’s easy going character, his ability to find joy, even in a war zone. I digitized the first handful of photos for my sisters, to which they responded…”He looks so young”… He was, early twenties.

I don’t believe in ‘coincidence.’ I do in ‘a wink from God.’ Life gave me an open window in photos to Dad’s time in Korea… seventy-one years later. I wish I knew the story behind every image, but they are buried with my Dad.

To my readers out there…especially you Baby Boomers, it may not be too late for you to descend into a photo graveyard, and pass on some precious memories.

Key Notes:

  • In Anderson Cooper’s extraordinary podcast, “All There Is,” he talks about how you can develop a different relationship with people after they die. I learned things about my Dad from the photos… just a kid, off to war. It makes me appreciate him even more.
  • Digitize and share your family photos.
  • If you don’t have a quality home scanner, or the time to do it, give a whirl. They do wonderful work, and currently have a free offer. We will be using them for the other 5,000 photos in Aunt Janet’s basement.
  • Dad did make me work a year outside of the firm so I could experience working under a different ‘boss.’ My first job was Sears Toy Department during holiday rush.

On a Lighter Note:

  • The funniest father/daughter car ride is Toula Portokalos in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The drive to Dancing Zorba’s before dawn is the perfect picture of my life. The film became the highest-grossing romantic comedy domestically of all time, and grossed $241.4 million in North America. Toula’s drive paid off! Dad paid me $3.33 an hour.
  • Sears Toy Department paid me $3.85 an hour. After 2 years, Dad had me come back to the firm, at my same $3.33 an hour.
  • I currently wake up like clockwork at 4:00 a.m.  It’s the best part of the day!

*Dad served  in Chorwan – 3rd Division Sector, 10th Engineer Combat Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, Shore 1, Sector, N. Korea from 1951-1952.




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  1. This is SO rich. I love your writing and your encouragement to preserve our memories for our family. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Loved reading these memories. What treasure to have those photos of your dad!! 💜

  3. Great story, Val. And, of course, your Dad was right. I’m not a 4:00 am person like you, but I am an early riser. The early morning is also the best time to write. Dave Begley

  4. I enjoy the old photos, but digitizing them all seems daunting. I did go through some of my mom’s photos and asked questions. Of course, I love the reference to Toula!

  5. Love reading your stories Valerie! And I’m feeling the nudge to get my old pictures digitized!! They are treasures for sure! Blessings~

    1. 🙂 You won’t be sorry! It will be one of my next blogs, but I used all the photos to make my son a recipe book… if the recipe was from Nana, there were pictures of Ryan and Nana by it! He loved it!

  6. I was so happy to see your story here! I have wondered how you are and where you are these days. I recently found your business card and have been meaning to try and make contact as I havent seen anything written by you in so long. I hope you are well my friend.

  7. so enjoyed this! I love love going thru old photos-always bug my family ‘lets take a picture’ but as you say they can be priceless!

  8. Loved the picture the memories, such a rich treasure, SIL was asking about a place to digitalize pictures I will let her know, thank you

  9. Loved seeing these pictures and your reflection on your early working years!! I will look into that photo panda site!! The reference to Toolah made me remember I was a swarthy little girl from 3-5 grade 🤷🏻‍♀️, probably that ethnic family background haha.

    1. Swarthy? 🙂 I have all the scanning toys at my desk, and Photopanda just did my free offer seamlessly. They way it auto color corrected some of the old photos saved me hours of photoshop work!

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Article by: Valerie Bourdain

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