Throwing Open the Shutters with StoryCombs

Whenever I feel the pang of nostalgia for my traveling days, I find myself sitting cross-legged on the floor of my bedroom, surrounded by photos. These photos remind me of the facts— I was in Thailand, I had medium length hair, I wore purple, and I worked in a sanctuary.

That’s all true, fine and well, but it keeps me at arm’s-length from my memories. It isn’t until I hear the proud trumpeting of elephants or the gentle chimes of a Buddhist temple that I can feel that sun on my skin, I can taste young coconut and mango, I can remember what it was like to be me in that moment. Photos provide the window into my past and sound throws open the shutters.

Such a strong association between sound and memory is, of course, not unique to me and not reserved for only the big moments. Our entire history as a people used to be preserved only through spoken word and song, in oral histories. Maybe that ancient instinct still exists in all of us today. Just open up a music streaming service and you’ll be faced with dozens of ‘nostalgia’ themed playlists, designed to take you back, whether to your ‘night to remember’ senior prom or to just last summer.

This year, my summer sounds like the oldies. I hear a young Frank Sinatra’s voice and I’m back in Baltimore, sitting in a pristine living room, the whir of the AC keeping that Maryland humidity at bay (a little too well, if you ask me). I watch my 95-year-old great-grandmother, Alice, close her eyes and softly rock to the music.

“Did you know my Daddy worked at the Hippodrome?”

She’s being transported back to her youth and I want to go with her. “Yes, ma’am, but tell me again?”

Baltimore Sun photo, 1921

She tells me every time I see her, so I already know the facts––she was a little girl, her father worked at the Hippodrome, and sometimes she met famous people. But it’s not just about the facts. It’s about the way she laughs when she tells me how the Rockettes, “At least I think it was them,” thought she was “just darling.” It’s about her Baltimore accent coming out in full force when she says, “And, hon, lemme tell you, that Cary Grant was handsome!” Naturally, I nod in agreement. She tells me everything she can remember like it’s the first time she’s told me. I soak it in like it’s the first time I’ve heard it.

It’s been 80 years since a ballerina bought her an ice cream cone, but Alice is still beaming with pride. The tone in her voice and the bright light in her eyes bring me through time with her and I can feel the hot stage lights, I can taste the vanilla ice cream, and I can imagine what it was like to be her in that moment. When it’s time for me to go, I make sure we snap a picture together and I write down the name of the Frank Sinatra song. I don’t want to forget this afternoon.

If sound can throw open the shutters on my memories and on my great-grandmother Alice’s, then it should absolutely be a part of preserving these small pieces of history. I’m glad that I have that afternoon, that song, and those stories in my head, but they don’t belong to me alone. They belong to every child, grandchild, great-grandchild, and yes, great-great-grandchild that Alice has. StoryCombs allows me to share what facts and feelings I glean from these little trips back to Baltimore. Goodness knows, Alice’s family is big enough to fill the Hippodrome, so having a convenient and cohesive way to share is a life-saver. Plus, by giving me the ability to tell my family’s stories through a combination of photo, film, and image, StoryCombs allows us all to live with the shutters open, illuminating the past in ways that I never thought possible.


The StoryCombs team created this blog to encourage, inform, and inspire your storytelling journey. Try the StoryCombs app to curate a lasting legacy through narrated photos. We believe your family’s narrative is precious and deserves a safe place to live and grow.

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