How an old photo triggered memories and better communication for one Holt adoptive family.


When I was a kid, fishing was the preferred family pastime of the Kalb household. It led us to regular summer excursions to the Mississippi river, Lake Volga, and a small fishing hole outside of Maynard (which I’m convinced is real, but can’t find on any map). The crown jewel of our fishing excursions were the annual trips to Lake Norway in Minnesota — simply dubbed “vacation.” Vacation happened in the middle of every summer after the crops were planted, weeds pulled and rocks picked up. I loved it. A five-star resort this was not. It was a modest little resort with equally modest cabins on one of Minnesota’s ten-thousand lakes. I’m not sure there was anything that really set this place apart from “resort X” a few miles down the road. But when you’re a kid, it didn’t matter. It warms my heart as I remember the little things that made vacation so great. Like when I tried cream soda for the first time. Or when an old, discarded fishing lure on the bottom of Dad’s tackle box caught me so many northern pike that by the time I had caught eight or nine, the sharp teeth of the northern had left it in tatters and unusable. Or the year it rained so much that Mom and Dad conceded to Mother Nature as we loaded into our 1976 sky blue Buick LeSabre to catch the afternoon showing of Ghostbusters in the local theatre — something we’d never do at home.

The day after this picture was taken began like any other day on vacation. I woke to the sizzle and smell of a hot breakfast being prepared — eggs, toast and Lit’l smokies. We always started our days with a big breakfast so we’d be energized for a morning of fishing. After dishes were done, Dad would make sure our small 14-foot rental boat and its nine-and-a-half horsepower outboard motor was fueled up and ready to go. Concurrently, Mom prepped a cooler with drinks and snacks so hunger wouldn’t inhibit our fishing experience. We’d strap on and zip up our life jackets and motor out to last night’s fishing hot spot. On any other day after the morning fishing, we’d come in for lunch, prep for the beach, and spend the afternoon swimming and building sand castles. On this day, though, after the walk up the steep hill from the dock, we found a small white note placed by the resort staff on our kitchen table. It was a message from Grandma and Grandpa: “Urgent. Call Holt.” Before cell phones and email or even answering machines, getting a hold of someone on holiday required a complex web of emergency contacts, preparation and contingency plans. Holt called Grandma and Grandpa. Grandma and Grandpa called the resort. The resort left us a message. Dad called Holt. After the call was made from the resort office, Dad returned to the cabin to inform us that we’d be cutting vacation short and leaving tomorrow. Katie, our new sister from Korea, was landing in Des Moines in two days.

There’s so much more I could write regarding Katie’s arrival and the associated complexities of a toddler dropped off in a foreign land with complete strangers; but those stories get complicated fast, and I want to keep this one simple. While my perspective provides a simple story filled with a child’s wondrous memories, the story derived from the exact same photo from Mom and Dad’s perspective would probably read very differently. It would most likely include a stress-filled six-hour car ride with two fighting siblings, the realization that they forgot something critical at home, and high anxiety and anticipation around the note that eventually ended up on our cabin’s table. In these differences lies the fertile ground for exciting and revealing conversation.

In prepping for this piece, as I tried to get my facts straight, I asked questions to the whole family on a group text. For over an hour, my phone kept “dinging” as my sisters and parents chimed in with more details and funny memories. It was probably one of the most significant “conversations” we’d ever had about that time, despite all being integral parts of the event. Throughout the back and forth texts, there were moments when an uncontrollable giggle escaped my mouth as the words on my smartphone triggered memories that were all but lost to time. And though some of the thoughts had me laughing out loud, others gave me pause as details of Katie’s arrival struck me differently today than they had before. Perhaps it’s parenting a child close to Katie’s adoption age. Maybe it’s a deeper understanding of the trauma associated with adoption. Maybe it’s just age. Whatever the reason, the conversation was rich, unexpected and healing. So tonight, I’d challenge you to find an old family picture, text it to anyone who would remember the photo, and see what happens. Odds are, like my picture, the stories behind the image will evoke laughter, questions, sadness and the satisfaction of connecting with loved ones over a shared moment in time.

Steve Kalb | Holt’s Director of Adoptee Services 

This post originally appeared on the Holt International blog