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What I found while losing my mind

Anna Molinari is ready to welcome her dad back from deployment in 2008.

LISA SMITH MOLINARI

By LISA SMITH MOLINARI | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: February 26, 2021

“Mom, do we have any photos of me and Dad when he came home from deployment?” our daughter asked, unwittingly sending me on a harrowing, epic journey through the storage spaces of our home.

Anna, 23, was completing an application for a fashion design opportunity that required her to tell her “life story” in photos and video clips. The employer thought it was interesting that Anna was a well-traveled military kid turned fashion designer, so she needed photos depicting her unique upbringing.

I’m usually annoyed by the tasks my perfectly capable, resident, young adult daughter lobs at me (e.g., “Could you buy more goat cheese crumbles?”) But I responded, “I’m on it!”, confident that I knew just where to find a photo of Anna at age 10, waving a small flag, when her Dad returned from a yearlong deployment in his desert cammies.

In my youth, I was a meticulous organizer — obsessive, even. I squirreled everything away in its proper place. I categorized, labeled and indexed my belongings — everything from Tupperware to important papers. My obsessive tendencies served me well into my 30s, when I was spinning many plates in the air as a Navy wife and mother of three children. Order was comforting. I clearly recall the rush of satisfaction I would feel after sorting our daughter’s extensive Polly Pockets collection, matching pairs of tiny rubber shoes, grouping accessories and storing everything in separate colored bins, labeled and stacked neatly on our playroom shelves.

Therefore, I had a false sense of confidence when I began my search for the deployment photographs Anna needed. I started with our computer files, because the deployment was in 2008, the year I received my first digital camera. Also, I specifically remembered a digital slideshow of the homecoming event set to “Home” by Daughtry made by one of the unit’s spouses.

I sniffed at the thought, wondering if I’d cry when we played the video again.

But after scrolling through hundreds of JPEG files, I found nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. “Maybe I didn’t use my digital camera after all?” I thought, and spent the next hour searching a  closet full of old albums and shoeboxes containing photos dating from the 1980s to 2007. Aside from unearthing disturbing photos of my husband’s old girlfriend, my search was fruitless.

“Aha!” I exclaimed, when I remembered that our external hard drive contained gigabytes of more memorabilia. I connected the drive to my laptop and scrolled through hundreds of digital photographs and videos. Although I found nothing from homecoming, I did locate photos of every flipping statue, painting and pigeon in Italy, hours and hours of videos of tourist spots in London, and GoPro movies from the time the kids strapped the camera to our dog.

I bristled at the thought of having lost the homecoming photos and video, and I longed to sort a pile of Polly Pockets to restore some sense of order.

“It has to be somewhere!” I grumbled, determined to leave no stone unturned. I discovered nothing but soccer picnics and band concerts on old CDs I popped into our ancient iMac. A dusty file box in our attic full of pre-digital video recordings seemed promising, but we no longer had the equipment to play the clunky tapes. I was so frustrated, I actually contemplated searching for a hulking, shoulder-mounted camcorder on eBay.

I went to bed after 1 a.m., utterly defeated. I had failed to keep a tight ship. I had loosened my grip on order. I had lost control. 

The next morning, bleary-eyed and yawning, I stumbled upon three blurry digital photos of the homecoming on a scratched CD I found in a basket of computer cords, and gave them to Anna. The disappointing 24-hour search helped me realize three things. One, our family should have taken more photos and videos of each other, rather than tourist sites. Two, the advent of digital photo technology, exacerbated by the chaos of a yearlong deployment, was too much for me to manage.

And, three, I’m way better looking than my husband’s old girlfriend.

Read more at themeatandpotatoesoflife.com, and in Lisa’s book, The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com. Email: meatandpotatoesoflife@gmail.com