My mom’s side of the family has been visiting Wildwood one weekend every summer since I can remember. I think our first trip was when I was three years old. We have gone from a group of eleven to a group of sixteen.
We have tons of photos from these early trips. Pictures on the beach, pictures sitting around the hotel, pictures at the boardwalk, eating ice cream, riding rides. Getting photos took a lot more work back in those days. The film only allowed you a finite number of pictures, so you had to choose your memories carefully. And what if someone’s eyes were closed, or there was a terrible glare? You wouldn’t know until you got them developed days or weeks later. Speaking of developing, that was a chore too. Driving to the store, filling out the envelope, paying the fee, dropping it off only to have to return and see if they were ready yet.
Today, we take photos instantly. Constantly. We share them with our families and friends. Instantly and constantly. Yet ironically, when it comes to our Wildwood weekend, we have so many fewer photos of the later years than of the earlier years. Is it because we children simply got older, so we became less tolerant of our parents pushing cameras in our faces? Is it a sign of changing times, that a little square collage on a five inch screen is preferable to an album full of glossy prints?
I don’t know. All I know is that I am grateful that my “little cousin”, who at fifteen years old is now a young woman, had an Instax camera with her. She took her first Wildwood beach trip in her mother’s round belly, about four years after I served as the flower girl in her parents’ wedding. She and her brother have been like a beautiful little calendar, reminding me how old I am getting because the generation divide between us, which seemed so vast when I was babysitting, has closed both slowly and suddenly all at once. When I began high school, she was nothing more than a toddler toddling at my feet. And now here we are, back again at the first day of high school. When you watch someone grow up, and they approach milestones that still seem like yesterday to you, the cyclical nature of life hits you like a ton of bricks. The world never stops turning, time never stops ticking. And somehow, you often find yourself circling back to somewhere you have already been.
The Instax camera I mentioned before is reminiscent of the Polaroid that her dad used to have back in the 90s. Back before he was married, back when he lived in a basement room of my grandmother’s house, back when me and my sister were hellbent on playing with our cool, young uncle every free chance we got, he would snap that camera and we would watch mesmerized as the thick square magically popped out of it and our features slowly came into view.
Over twenty years later, we were on the beach, my twelve-year-old cousin, the son of the Polaroid snapping uncle, is snapping a pastel yellow Instax camera toward a group of giggling girls- me and my sisters and of course, my fifteen-year-old cousin, who no longer resembles the little girl I always thought she was but rather blends in with me and my sisters, like she is one of us. A little square pops out and we rush over, excited, to see the sand and water and ourselves appear in the white square.
Then we take a picture of the picture and we post it on Instagram.
No matter how many Polaroids, or selfies, or Instaxes, or pictures of pictures you take, remember the actual instant behind your “insta”. Remember the days when your parents used a whole roll of film just to capture one perfect photo. Remember to remember, because time really does fly and before you know it, your baby cousins will be the same age as you and the only way to remember how little they once were is an “insta”… or if you are really lucky, a real live photograph.