Murray: Family pictures can unlock life's mysteries

Murray: Family pictures can unlock life's mysteries

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No time commitments, a less structured life, and the necessity to stay at home lately led me to look through thousands of family pictures. My family has more photos in our collection than most because I grew up with a mother who took snapshots of nearly every moment of my life, and the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in this regard. I learned so many things from looking through old photo albums, but one major theme emerged.

That theme is the old adage, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” I looked at a baby album that my mom dug out of her cabinet and thought I had seen a million times. It was new to me, so I relished the pictures of my young parents showering their love on their firstborn … me. I saw such tender loving looks as well as my mom and dad’s arms protectively wrapping around me. If ever there was a doubt that I was loved, these pictures would certainly be evidence.

Michelle Sprout Murray

Michelle Sprout Murray

I saw a curly-haired toddler copying everything her parents did, from dressing just like Mommy to sitting with my head resting on my hands looking across the table at Daddy, who was in the same position looking across the table at me. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I remember wanting so much to be just like them.

I saw two parents in the prime of their lives teaching their little girl how to love dogs, how to travel to faraway places, and how to appreciate the travels between the pages of a good book. I saw a little girl drinking all of this in, providing a foundation for her that has so far spanned over half a century.

I saw this little “imp” of a girl sitting patiently in her high chair, watching as Aunt DeeDee oh so gently removed a sliver from her finger; I saw little “Missy” having a very important conversation while coloring with Uncle Jim, and I even saw her terribly upset, crying an ugly cry around two years of age. And then on the next page, all was right with the world again, the smile back on this little girl’s face as if nothing had ever happened. My early days were spent being the center of attention, whether with my parents or my extended family. (Now put that mystery together and maybe this is the reason I’ve always loved being on stage so much.)

Family pictures also transported me to the first meeting of my little sister, Jennifer, who I said I’d just call “Harold.” Thankfully to her, this moniker never stuck. I was SO happy to have a little sister, and to this day, I still am. She was an instant playmate, and we had the most fun playing school on our back porch, playing house in our living room, and playing circus outside on our huge tree swing. Hours and hours of imagination and creativity were had with Jenny, and even though there were sibling fights galore (as in any household), we always knew we had each other’s backs…and yes, even loved each other tremendously.

Fast forward to my life several decades later, and I was a mom with my own children. Of course, I’ve also delved into their albums lately and found myself simultaneously laughing and crying. I saw my boys enjoying their dogs, hamsters, guinea pig and hermit crabs; I saw my boys experiencing the ocean and mountains for the first time, and I saw my boys on my lap “listening” to me read books to them from the time they were only a few days old.

Indeed…the more things change, the more they stay the same.

This is one thing that sustains me these days. No matter what, my ancestors carried on and taught their kids the importance of family. These values have been passed down through the years (and of course have been highly documented in a plethora of pictures), and I feel confident in saying that one day my grandchildren will come across old photo albums with “Grandma Missy” in them and mysteriously discover parts of themselves in the crazy old-fashioned people.

And let’s hope that NEVER changes.

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Michelle Sprout Murray is a writer who lives in Mason City. She may be reached at


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