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 Texas : Features : Columns : Letters From North America :

Family Photos

by Peary Perry
Peary Perry

Watching the news concerning the fires in Los Angeles I notice that the most common item taken by residents fleeing their burning houses is their family photographs. I suppose there is some part of us deeply imbedded in our physic that wants to hold onto reminders of our past as well as the past of our ancestors. We keep these things near and dear to or hearts. When you hear someone describe the loss of their home, they almost always mention the loss of the family pictures. The rest of the things donít seem to compare in value.

In my house this is an on going issue. When we moved earlier this year, we were forced to confront ourselves with the fact that we have five or six book box sized cartons of photographs of our family which we have kept over the past forty years. We have slides, Polaroids, black and white photographs, photos on cdís, and digital images to contend with. Early in our married life we put photographs in albums, but gave up at some point in time, Iím not certain I know why. Maybe we were too busy living the dream.

The problem we now face is this overabundance of photographs throughout the years. Each fall I vow to get those boxes out and start to sort them into some kind of order so that they will make some sense. Some sense to whom has never been determined, but for some reason it seems to be important to me. Not so for my wife.

I never finish, in fact I seldom even get started, since I stop to think about when and where each set were taken and either get sentimental of tickled about whatever we were doing at the time. Either one of these disrupts my progress and leads me to cease my activity and lug the boxes back to the closet where they will sit again for another year or so. The whole process seems to be overwhelming as all of the boxes are filled to the brim with memories of years gone by, and in no certain order. Notice I saidÖno certain order. This results in my looking at pictures of my kids in diapers and then opening up the next set of them at college. It is more than the mind can comprehend at one time. Kind of like trying to see the entire Smithsonian in one day.

A lot of my pictures are of family members that I donít know or recognize since they were taken so long ago. In fact they may not even be members of my family for all I know. If youíre like me, you tend to hang onto pictures forever. I suppose when we die these never get sorted out or thrown away but just passed onto some surviving family member. Iíve got pictures of people that I am totally clueless about but am loath to throw away for some reason or another. It just doesnít seem to be the right thing to do. I guess Iím hoping someone in my family will step up to the plate and tell me who these people are. Not that there is anyone left to tell me since most everyone has died out by now. If that isnít possible then I feel certain those five or six boxes that I have now (as well as the one or two more I may generate before I pass on) will get passed along to my four sons who will leave them in the boxes for the next forty or fifty years and then try to figure out the same thing. Who the heck are those people? They wonít know, but will tell their wives that this is just part of the family history. She brings hers as well and those get mixed in with his, further adding to the confusion of future generations. This will get very confusing to those living a couple of hundred years from now.

This kind of reminds me of those huge collections of National Geographic. Everyone seems to have a bunch of them. We all intend to go back and re-read every word but we never seem to get enough time to do so. Therefore they sit on the shelves in our houses and get passed along from one generation to another.

One good thing to notice is the fact that with the advent of the digital age, all of these pictures can be compressed and saved in much smaller spaces. Perhaps my kids will only end up with one or two boxes by the time they get old. Probably not.

© Peary Perry
Comments go to pperry@austin.rr.com

Letters From North America - September 2, 2009 column
Syndicated weekly in 80 newspapers

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