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Student Model Print

Before Facebook, Snapchat, and Pinterest allowed us to gather and store images digitally, students kept their memories in photo albums and even shoeboxes. In this historic model, Alita writes about her shoebox collection of memories. Vivid details recreate the feeling of thumbing through pictures.


Most of the snapshots of my life are held in the photo albums of my mind. Some were captured by a camera, and those pictures I keep in a shoebox under my bed. I’m lucky to have “shoebox photos” of the earliest things I can remember. For example, three days after my third birthday, Katherine Emily arrived. I remember my dad taking me to see my new baby sister; we stopped at a gas station on the way to the hospital and bought my mom candy and a cola.

That day, the camera caught the tiny smile only a big sister could have as she holds one of the best birthday presents ever. I don’t take up even half of a blue hospital chair as I cradle Katie in my arms. She is wrapped all in white, like the little angel that every baby is. My white, hooded sweatshirt has faint patches of sky blue, and just a tiny crimson triangle of a T-shirt peeks out from behind the zipper. Looking closer, a third person can be seen: my mother’s wrist-banded hand holds Katie’s head up. My tiny arms weren’t quite strong enough for that task.

That was the first time I ever posed with Katie. Looking at that photo makes me remember all the other pictures I have of Katie and me, even when there was no camera with film and batteries ready to go. It’s these pictures that I’ll never lose.

Before Katie and I went off to school, we spent our days in the tunnels and caves of cardboard boxes and secret hideaways under the kitchen table. Our house has never been short on toys (there were six kids born before Katie and me), but boxes have always been a favorite. I remember being able to easily slide through the long passageways, my back not even brushing against the “ceilings” of our tunnels and forts. Katie had an even easier time but often needed a flashlight in the darkness. Our cities of cardboard were draped in rainbows of blankets and quilts. On the insides, however, the less light we had, the better. It’s too bad my memory camera has no flash.

“Picture Sales” were the basis for the kids’ economy in our house. Competition was fierce in our system of capitalism. Jake is three years older than I am, and I’m three years older than Katie, but we all tried to outdo each other drawing pictures, attractively placing them around our bedrooms, and bringing in the customers. Prices ranged from 1 to 25 cents, and we loved counting the money at the end of the night. Katie and I often combined our assets and tried to steal Jake’s business. Our walls were lined with neat rows of crayon drawings. We stocked anything from flowers to people, but supportive parents and older siblings made purchases from all of us.

Katie and I loved having our big sister Megan take us for summer walks. She was in high school, and hanging out with her added “coolness” to our status at Winkler Elementary. Filled with excess energy on the way to the park, beach, or the Hunny Tree gas station for pop and candy, we always loved to run ahead. Megan would let us, usually to the next telephone pole or two, where we would have to stop and wait for her. Shorter legs made the telephone pole seem distant, growing slowly closer as the Queen Anne’s lace flew past in the ditch. I can recall countless times that Katie and I woke up late and found ourselves running down the road to catch the bus. Looking back, this has to be one of the more ironic rolls of my “memory film,” because I ended up running cross-country; Katie wound up in poms and football.

Of my six sisters, Katie is the closest to me in age, and she’s often been my closest companion during family events. We are usually the only teenage kids around at family gatherings and on shopping trips in the family van. This explains why Katie and I are expert mimes. The shopping trips provide hours of being stuffed in the van with our younger siblings, Scarlet and Michael; the visits to Minnesota to see relatives yield seven hours of driving each way. On one occasion, Katie and I boarded the van, choosing the back seat. After 10 minutes of being annoyed by everyone else, we formed an invisible wall between the two front seats and ourselves. We mimed a smooth, perfectly flat, soundproof surface to perfection. The last picture on that roll of memories was Mom telling us to stop it.

The Niagara Falls/Canada/New York trip last year was the closest Katie and I have been. The same week of our shared 16th and 13th birthday-bonfire party, we spent days cramped in the back of my sister Sara’s car, next to her one-year-old daughter, Hannah. Our quiet brother-in-law Brad was driving, and Hannah cried the whole way. That trip provided enough scenes to make a full-length movie, but I have only one shoebox picture of Katie and me in front of Niagara Falls. We are both bundled up like we were in the picture taken 13 years earlier. This time, though, we wear dark blue jeans and gray sweatshirts, our matching brown hair pulled back, hers in a ponytail and mine behind a pale pink bandana. The background doesn’t take us to a quiet hospital room, but to the continuous rumble of beautiful Niagara Falls. On the left, the American Falls turn over beneath a rainbow of October foliage. Farther away, on the right, Horseshoe Falls bubbles under a mist that slowly rises above the horizon. Katie and I lean against the heavy, black railing, and against each other. Our smiles are sweet and happy, reminiscent of Katie’s first birthday.

These two shoebox pictures of Katie and me are just two snapshots in a shared photo album, filled with every cake, thought, joke, and sweater we’ve shared. In the midst of looking through the collection, Katie yells at me, “Hey, that’s my shirt!”

“You borrow my stuff,” I reply.

“Not without asking.”

“You had my black skirt for three months.”

“I asked for it.”

I let the fight peter out, not wishing to waste a memory on an argument about clothes. There will be plenty of hair-pulling, name-calling, and angry situations between Katie and me to come. I want to save my film for better times.

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