When childhood photos remind us of our most precious relationships

Gretchen Kelly (left), Annie Reneau (right)

When I was a kid, we had an entire living room shelf full of photo albums to pore through when we wanted to relive family memories. Now, several decades later, we flip through digital albums, instead. But the feelings that family photographs invoke are still the same. Every photo tells a story, and some photos hold tales and truths that are particularly dear to our hearts.

I was visiting with my friend Paula recently when she pulled up a sweet old photo of our sons together.


Paula Fitzgibbons

Paula and I met in a parenting group 15 years ago. Our oldest daughters were nearly identical in age and we both had newborn babies, so we started planning regular play dates together.

Soon those play dates became a lifeline to our own sanity, and our friendship blossomed. We got together several times a week for years, essentially raising our kids together. Paula didn't have any family living nearby — no grandparents to gush over her children, no cousins to bond with — so our family became their extended family.

"I entered parenting without having been parented well myself," says Paula, adding that our marathon playdates gave us a chance to parent in a community. "Sometimes I'd even call and say, 'I can't parent today. How about if I do all the cooking and you do all the parenting?' So we did. In that way, I learned how to be the parent I never had."

While our girls were same-aged peers, our sons were seven years apart. Paula says that her son Sevvy had always wanted a brother, and when my Isaac was born, it was like Sevvy's wish was fulfilled. Indeed, our boys grew an incredibly sweet bond, less like friendship and more like brotherhood. Isaac followed Sevvy around like a puppy, and Sevvy doted on Isaac with a mixture of mentorship and protectiveness.

Life happened and we eventually ended up moving to different parts of the country. Our boys are now 18 and 11, but we still get together and reminisce about how those formative years meant so much to both of our families. This photo encapsulates the joy and care that defined our families' relationship.

Annie Reneau

Gretchen Kelly also has a precious sibling photo, but hers holds beautiful, bittersweet memories of her beloved baby brother, Todd.

At 16, Todd was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma, a rare type of bone tumor that generally hits people at a young age. He was eight years younger than Gretchen and 11 years younger than their older sister. "He was the baby of the family and spoiled rotten by all of us," Gretchen says. He passed away in 1999 at age 18.

"There's a photo of he and I that tugs at my heart because he has his arm casually draped over my shoulder and it perfectly captures our relationship and dynamic," says Gretchen.

Gretchen Kelly

"I don't remember what he said when we took this picture, but I know he said something to make me laugh while he stayed casual and cool for the photo. That was his way. He could keep a straight face and make you laugh in spite of yourself. And he could ALWAYS make you laugh."

"This is the picture that always leaves a lump in my throat," she adds. "It makes me smile—it is exactly how we were together. He was the baby brother who I adored, but at times, as he matured, it was as if he was the older sibling. Protective and wise beyond his years. But mischievous. Always mischievous."

Gretchen keeps another photo of Todd on her "inspiration wall" in her office, this one during his cancer journey.

Gretchen Kelly

"Obviously cancer was already taking something from him at this point," she Gretchen. "But not his smile. He somehow made all of us laugh and smile even when we were terrified of everything he was going through. I keep this picture on the wall in my office. His smile is what I will always cling to, his determination to not let cancer steal his joy or his humor. This serves as a reminder of determination and grit. When things get hard, as they tend to do, I look at this picture and he reminds me we can do hard things, and sometimes we can smile through it."

Photos aren't just snippets of our lives — they are images of joy and love, of family and community that can move us and inspire us. But these days our photos frequently get lost in the digital deluge of modern life. They end up archived on a hard drive somewhere or buried deep in social media.

Google Nest is trying to make it easier to keep treasured photos front and center with the Google Nest Hub — a device that serves as a digital photo frame and personal assistant. You can choose any album from Google Photos, such as "Family" or "Favorites," and the Nest Hub will display them on rotation. The Live Albums feature takes the work out of updating the photos by letting you create an album that automatically adds photos of the people who matter to you most. You can share a Live Album with anyone you want, just like any other album in Google Photos. The Nest Hub even adjusts to the lighting in the room so your photos look less like images on a screen and more like real photos.

Here's to the snapshots that remind us of our loved ones at all stages of life. They truly are among our most precious belongings.

Google is providing Nest Hubs to USO families to help them feel closer this holiday season. Join us in supporting the USO at uso.org/googlenest.

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