Sunday, December 23, 2012

Time Travel

Grandma Ida (Adella) with Uncle Ed's 1957 TR3
My task of late has been to catalog, sort, document, and discard. We're downsizing. So that means we no longer have the luxury of storing a lifetime of memories for somewhere between 9 to 13 people, depending on how you shuffle the family deck. Some things are wonderful to find: samples of handwriting of the grandparents I never knew; a fan letter to my dad who was a child vaudevillian and movie star, the Triptik from a journey we took driving across the country in 1961. There are pictures that really do light the corners of my mind. Some things are easy to say goodbye to -- there are photographs (and faces) I never need to see again. But some things are a little heartbreaking, such as the box of newspaper front pages my mother kept for the significant days in her life (marriage, birth of children, sibling's weddings) or significant events in history (D-Day, JFK's assassination, Hurricane Hugo papers from ground zero here in Charleston.)

We built this house in 1997. When we built, by code, we had to elevate above the highest flood point recorded for our location. This was not to allow for storage of precious, irreplaceable mementos, but to keep our home out of flood-waters, should the lowcountry of Charleston be inundated again. Apparently, at some point after 2000 (last headline was from January 2000), my mother shuffled the box of newspapers, as well as 4 or 5 boxes of photographs, letters, and other memories to the space under the house. Under the house there is no climate control, and there are a plethora of things that like to eat paper. Plus we've had a flood, or maybe two floods. I don't remember. But finding a box of half eaten, pulped papers was really a down moment in this downsizing. I'm glad she wasn't around to see, because it would have been even harder for her.

The last week or so, I've stopped cataloging the personal library,which is up to 2907 and still going. (For the record, I did not include the 3 boxes of books which were also pulped and mildewed in the basement.) I've turned instead to try and make some order of the 30 photo albums and 6 cartons of photographs my mother had. The woman loved pictures as much as she loved books. And like her book collection, she often had photo duplicates (even triplicates, and for some special ones, 6 or 7 copies.) Sometimes things were well ordered, but other times, 1921 would be mixed with 1965. Talk about disconcerting.

The plan is to decrease the number of albums, eliminate duplicates, scan most of the photographs, and keep some significant ones in hard copy. I'm sorting through, having a lovely time, feeling a little like Pooh's Rabbit, with all the friends and relations. I actually have been through the photographs enough with my mom in the 50+ years we had together, so that I can easily recognize faces of family I never met, or who I last saw when I was 2 or 3. But there are some that stump me totally. I'll look at a face and try to figure out which side of the family looks back at me. I find that my impulse with those is to think, "I have to ask Mama who that is", then sigh, and shift the photo to the pile/folder labeled "Who are these people?"

So if you ask me what I'm doing for the holidays, don't be surprised if you hear me say I'm time-travelling. In my case, my T.A.R.D.I.S is a photo album. And as the good Doctor would say, "Pictures are cool."


  1. I understand the time traveling out of order bit, and the duplicate photos bit, and the newspaper headlines bit. We didn't have a flood, but Mother stored some things in the garage that I'll never identify even what they were.

  2. My current worry is that I won't get all this stuff cleared out before I pop off, and my family will have to go through the remainders of 2 generations. Good luck.

  3. Nice as hardcopy is, even the touch of an old photo album, before you even open it, for instance, this digital world is wonderful when it comes to preservation - so long as we back up of course! - I had an old suitcase full of clippings, theater programs, an assortment of tickets from various journeys which I lost to a flood at some point in the last 25 years. It was a lesson. All we need is the spark to light the fire of memory. It's what's inside our heads which counts, and for future generations, they have it all in cyberspace to travel to at will. :=)

  4. They need to install a "like" button for comments on blogs, because I'd be clicking it now.