Over the past weekend, my three sisters and I did the deed, the one we’ve been putting off for over three years. Yes you read that right, we took care of that horrific job of going through my Mom’s photographs; over sixty years of photographs. Three large totes of photo albums plus other loose photos; a lifetime in photos. What a job!
We met at my house on Saturday at 8:30 am intending to be finished before noon, a huge goal. We started after a fortifying breakfast of Oh Boy waffles(Mom’s favorite waffle recipe from the Betty Crocker recipe book), chicken apple sausage, juice, coffee and tea. My sister, Dawn needed to be somewhere by noon so she kept us on track somewhat fussing at us to keep moving, quit telling too many stories, and generally encouraging us to purge the stuff we did not want or need and let me tell you, there was plenty of those photos. We laughed, we cried, we talked and talked and talked and Dawn kept fussing, keeping us on track.
At one point my daughter called for her weekly Saturday morning chat while she commutes to class and we put her on speakerphone so she could be part of the conversation. My daughter just listened and laughed with us. She said we should start a podcast so other folks could join the lunacy that is our family; sort of like “Click and Clack – the Tappit Brothers” who had a radio show about cars on NPR. We agreed to think about a podcast and continued working on the photos.
The majority of pics were from my parents extensive travels. Before Dad retired they upgraded their camper and bought an Airstream trailer then joined an Airstream club which planned camping trips all over the United States. After they retired, Mom and Dad continued camping and traveling almost three quarters of the year. They took cruises with amazing sights, stunning sunrises and unbelievably beautiful sunsets; they visited interesting countries; enjoyed an extremely educational and enriching retirement; and took thousands of pictures that Mom carefully put into albums. Sadly the majority of these photo albums were jam packed full of these trips where none of us knew the people in the photo or could identify the places they visited. While Mom was really good about putting the pics into albums; she rarely wrote any identifying information on the backs. We quickly dispatched these photos because they were Mom and Dad’s memories not ours.
It was the old family photos that really got the conversation going. Being the oldest, most of the people in the photos were people I knew, somewhat recent ancestors no longer with us in person only in memory. Unfortunately most of these ancestors passed before my youngest sisters were even born or shortly after when they were not old enough to make any lasting memories. And then there were the pics of our immediate family at all stages of growth. We enjoyed being a family with only three kiddos but Mom and Dad needed more so we quite happily ended up with five.
As the older photos came out the stories began. My Mom’s mother always told the best stories about family and experiences. She knew how to turn a phrase, knew how the people were related and what they did but when Grandma told the story these people came to life for me and continue to live in my memory.
This photo was always one of my favorites. My Grandmother fixing my Mom’s veil before her wedding. What a tender moment one with so much love and happiness. Looking at how young Mom was at the time, only 18 years old proudly wearing the pearls that belonged to her mother as her “something borrowed.” The confident look on her face makes me wonder if she knew what life planned for her and Dad. Their love story is for another day but one I will try to give justice to another day, soon.
It is interesting to me that this week as we look forward to the Mexican holiday Día de Muertos or Day of the Dead most of my family’s photos still hold meaning for me; still remind me of those ancestors my family held dear. By remembering those that went before, our lives are so much richer; filled with amusing stories and feeling much more solid and well grounded.
Until the 2017 Disney movie “Coco” I never really gave much thought to the idea of holding onto the past through honoring our ancestors to make sure they do not disappear. The idea of remembering someone to keep them alive in our minds and honor them with those memories is a wonderful concept, it gives meaning to our traditions and allows us to truly know where we came from, where we’re going, and where we belong. We are who we became because of those ancestors, where they went, where they lived, what they did to make their lives worthwhile and what traditions they kept and passed down to us. Without traditions we just exist.
So last Saturday as we discarded so many photos that Mom felt compelled to keep, I did not feel bad about it. Those were her memories. The photos I kept were the memories I know and need to make my life richer, more grounded and help keep my traditions and relatives alive. Who knows I may even share them on Ancestry.com so my extended family can access them easily.