Thursday, November 19, 2009


When my mother died, I became the inheritor of her cardboard box of accumulated snapshots and photos. Right up to the time she passed away she was intending to get all her photos in order. It never happened.

When Jerry's mother died, he inherited a similar box from his mother, who also had all the photos from her two older sisters, both of whom died childless.

Jerry and I each brought into our marriage a box of snapshots from our first marriages, and then, of course, we started our own collection. Frankly, it became overwhelming.

However, midway in our marriage I did a very smart thing. I spent about a week sitting on the floor sorting all the photos into groups. One group was for my brother, one for Jerry's sister, one for my cousin Shirley and one for Jerry's only cousin Ethel. Into each group I put all the school pictures of their children that they had sent over the years, as well as many family photos in which they appeared. I put each family's photos in a big manila envelope and then invited the families to the house for dinner.

The after-dinner coffee was served along with stuffed manila envelopes for dessert. There was much hooting and hollering over the old photos and we had a riotous time. It was an exceptionally entertaining dinner, one that we all have remembered. And best of all, it certainly thinned out our existing photo pile.

With the pictures that I saved, I put them in "children" piles – a pile for each of my children and one for each of Jer's children. I made sure there was a like assortment of ancestor pictures, their own children's pictures and pictures of their cousins in each pile. I bought 6 big photo albums and after culling out pictures I wanted to save for my own album (to muse over in my old age), I made an album for each kid, labeled them, and set them in the den on low bookshelves. Whenever the grandchildren came over, they always ran over to "their" family album to look at it.

When Jerry's daughter Kathie drew close to the five year point in her valiant fight with breast cancer and was not doing well, I gave her the album with her name on it so she could have the pleasure of looking at it. The rest of the children will have to wait until I am gone before they get theirs.

Since then I have periodically updated the albums. Each time I tuck photos away in the proper albums, named and dated, I am touched by mixed feelings -- intense love of family and wistful sadness at the passing of some of the people pictured in the albums who have been so important in my life.

When I die my kids will probably tear their hair out over what to do with all my genealogy stuff. But I have to laugh when I think of them marching in my office after I'm gone, grabbing the book with their name on it, and thanking me in absentia because I had the foresight to do this for them. They will never have to know how awful it is to be burdened with 5,000 photographs all at once - unnamed, undated and piled in a cardboard box.

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