My late mother has been gone for almost 5 years, but most of her keepsakes wound up at my house. I have dealt with most of them, the ones that I could identify by touch, but the hundreds of photographs were my nemesis. She had mounted them neatly in dozens of albums, and some actually had names and dates written on the back, although many were in pencil and barely legible. There were also duplicates of duplicates. Others had puzzling captions like “He was 4 in this picture.” Who? When? It was a mystery to my daughter and me as we poured over the mountain of albums together last week. Kara was here for a conference for parents who home-school, and I had the privilege of attending with her, but when we were not downtown at the conference, we were working our way through many tasks that I had been saving up for her. My son was lucky enough to be out of town those days, or he would have been recruited to help. It was up to Kara to determine if this picture or that should be saved. I advised that if she did not recognize the people and there was no label, it just had to be pitched. No use saving a photo of someone she does not know. Certainly her children and future grandchildren will not value them either. Some decisions were easier than others, like when the photo was of a car or a river or an unknown house. People liked to take pictures of their cars back then, and most of the men had a cigarette in their mouths. It seemed heartless to throw away these images, but we had to remind ourselves that we were not throwing away the people themselves.
It was the same with the stacks of old school papers and letters from friends. In some cases, like the letters from my dad to my mother when he was in the Army, there was historical value. I enjoyed hearing some of the stories and essays I had written as a young child, but we had to discipline ourselves and not read every one, especially the letters from old boyfriends, or we would never get done. We’ll save those for a rainy day when the grandkids are here and might enjoy reading what Grandma had to say when she was their age. Maybe not.
I am happy to report that the albums have been cleared, and I must say I’m sorry to the garbage man who probably got a hernia carrying out my garbage and recycling today. But I feel so much lighter, knowing that those photos and papers have finally been organized or removed from my guest room. I was also delighted to find some photos that I plan to use in my next book, Insight Out, One Blind Woman’s View of her Life, which should come out this coming fall. I was afraid I didn’t have pictures of my children when they were babies or pictures of the Seeing Eye (r) dogs I had back in the 80’s and 90’s, but now I have them.
The lesson we learned and the one I want to pass on to you is, if you’re going to save that photo, for Goodness sake, attach labels, names, dates, places, and events. Your grandchildren will not have a clue what that is and will either agonize over what to do with it or just pitch it with all your other stuff that means nothing to them. Make those photos meaningful for the sake of your family history.
Author of “The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living A Daughter’s Memoir”
Available at Amazon.com, dldbooks, and NLS Talking Books DB 91261