Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Past Over

I have some very old photograph albums. My father stars in one of them as a toddler, and he was beginning to toddle in 1909. All of the action takes place in Bisbee, Arizona, where his family had moved because his mom had the consumption and it was thought that the dry air would be salutary. It wasn't. In the rare photos of her, she is bedridden and wan, with the long-suffering aspect of a poet, which she was. She managed to eke out three children and a group of poems and then withered away. There are some surprises. Daddy is shown in a little cowboy outfit that looks just as fake as the ones kids wore fifty years later, and shoot--they probably had authentic cowboys moseying around then. Also, he had cocker spaniels and burros, and he only let me have a dang parakeet.

The album is made of two slabs of wood bound by leather straps; the pages are black and the tiny photos are glued in. Some familiar family critter that straddled the pet/livestock categories probably provided both the glue and the leather. Someone whose handwriting was as wretched as my dad's made notations in white ink. You can hold his whole childhood in one hand.

Mom's old albums are less rustic. The photos are neatly anchored in with fancy photo corners, and every one is captioned in her neat  hand, thanks to her having been taught the Palmer method of  handwriting. I was also taught the Palmer method but rejected it soon after for artsy fartsy embellishments like the squiggly E, and so now no one, including myself, can read my handwriting. Several photo albums reveal her to be a happy young woman with friends and some admirers (who IS that man with his arm around my mom!). She dutifully maintained albums when her kids came along. I arrived way past the time anyone was specifically interested in having another baby, and my own album covers my life up to age fourteen in about as many pages.

I got a decent camera in the '70s and took a lot of pictures. You didn't want to waste them, because film and processing could run into some money, but sometimes you'd come across something--copulating elks, say--and end up with thirty shots of the same copulating elks, each successive one taking up more and more of the frame as you crept ever closer. I'd buy an album and corners and select the last two elk shots and put them in. Not right away, of course. First I had to accumulate several years of pictures and then stack up some guilt about them and then put the best ones in the album, but the rest were stashed away somewhere in their little envelopes with the negatives for
perpetuity. You couldn't throw away a photo or a negative any more than you could toss out a mystery key that you hadn't used in twenty years. Some time around then they came up with the albums that had magic pages and you placed your pictures in them carefully and tried to smooth out the plastic sheet
over them, and in a few years they had all turned orange and they either fell right out or they had welded themselves to the page.

The thing is, we tended to haul out the albums pretty often and have a look. And if I try to find a photo to scan now from those days, I'm pretty good at remembering if it was in the big red album or the smaller yellow one or any of a dozen others. Now I've gone digital and I don't know where anything is. My life has never been better documented, but don't ask me to prove it.

51 comments:

  1. What treasures! I have some photos of my dad and uncles taken during their boyhood in Norway, and you just know the pictures were something special to have survived the miles & years intact.

    I still have my old Minolta SLR and think about donating it to the art department at the University, but I'm not 100% convinced I'll never use it again. For something besides a paperweight, I mean.

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    1. You'll never use it again. Except as a paperweight. I'm not even sure they have any value anymore. That's not to say I don't still have my Minolta SLR!

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  2. From 1980 when my wife and I married, I retired from the Navy and we moved into an old farmhouse I kept fairly comprehensive albums and written logs - up until the 2004 when I got my first digital camera - now I just have a jumble of pictures on the hard drive of my computer with little or no organization.
    I regret not keeping albums and a log for the past ten years - but technology has moved us on...in some cases not necessarily for the better.
    the Ol'Buzzard

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    1. I know. At first I thought I'd print some out but it never happened. You can get terrific superior albums printed out now, but I seem to have stacked up too much past to go for it.

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  3. My parents had a big old suitcase filled with pictures. Our favorite activity when we had a family reunion was to pore over them, most of the people nobody knew who they were if they weren't family. I also never threw away any negatives, although I don't think I ever used them again. I'm more organized now because I have my digital pictures on my computer organized by events. :-)

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    1. Then you still have to know when the events were. And I still have my negatives. Every dang one of them.

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    2. I discovered the miracle of filing digital photos by date! You can watch your life roll by... if you want to.

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  4. I have boxes of pictures in the garage that I keep telling myself I will organize and place in albums. Now I also have digital pictures in iPhoto that I say the same thing - someday I will organize them, note time, place, people (I already forgot who some of the people are) and then what? What happens when new technology makes iPhoto obsolete? My grandkids will NEVER find the pictures...

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    1. Here's the good news: they don't care. By the time they do care, we'll all be gone and nobody will be able to tell them who all the people were.

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  5. Too right. I would never live long enough to organize the digital "albums" to the point that one could ever find what he wants.

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    1. It's starting to matter less and less. There's that.

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  6. My brother took all the albums. Wish he would scan them and share!

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    1. Yeah, I designated myself the Archivist, but I've done nothing AT ALL with all the stuff. Note to all the archivists out there: scanning selected photos and printing out albums for the family would be an EXCELLENT Christmas present.

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  7. I still have boxes full of negatives that I swear to myself I'll digitize someday. I actually prefer my digital shots - I'm such a geek that I have them nicely organized in folders. But the sharing aspect is lost - there's nothing like hauling out an old album and inflicting your photos on innocent visitors. Sigh.

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    1. I think people like to look at albums. But my dad made our company look at slides. He had the screen and the projector and everything. To this day the smell of the big screen reminds me of boredom.

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  8. Yep, the easier it is to take pictures, the more of them there are, and the harder they are to find :)

    I stopped taking them when I realized the ONLY time we got the camera out was to take yet another picture of another Christmas tree. Sheesh.

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    1. Last one of those I took was the Christmas tree, post-cat. It was something.

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  9. I went digital and thought storing them on my computer was the way to go! That was probably 6 computers ago and I lost everything. THEN I started posting them on my original blog that lasted 12 years before it got hacked. MORE photos gone. Now I want all those old fruitcake cans back that crumpled the corners of all those antiquated photos. At least they still exist....somewhere.

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    1. Wait a minute. Blogs get hacked? Why? What?

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    2. I KNOW!! Who'd a thunk it! Not ME. And my password was very secretive. It was the name of my dog, THAT I TALKED ABOUT ALL THE TIME!!!

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  10. When my parents died one of my sisters in law had the uneviable task of going through box after box after box of photos. Not a fun job. Neither of my parents EVER got around to albums, or writing on the backs of photos. So there were rather a lot of mystery people captured and locked in shoe boxes.

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    1. Mystery people should be discarded. Some of mom's albums have utterly unrelated photos and I think when people sent her photos of their children she put them in OUR album.

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  11. Oh, so true - and I'm always duplicating things in the computer in various files - and still can't remember where it is. You make me want to rummage through those boxes stored beneath the TV where my childhood resides. Maybe even those old slide carousels - if the old projector bulb works!! Great post.

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    1. One of these rainy sad-ass days I will go through every photo on this computer and either assign them to named folders or ignore them.

      Right. I'm going to do that.

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    2. the important thing is that you believe that.

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  12. I have the same mess on my computer. And once when I got a new computer, none of the data ABOUT the photos transferred. I don't know when a lot of my photos were even taken. I loved the memories in this post!

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    1. I have a feeling there's a life lesson in here for all of us. I have a bad habit of thinking something didn't happen if I don't have a photo of it. I should probably get over it.

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  13. When Peter returned last week from his mother's 90th birthday bash he brought home some old photos.And guess what silly goose said they needed to be stored digitally? It will take me forever! Off to find duct tape so my mouth stays SHUT...

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    1. Man, you bought yourself that one, didn't you?

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  14. I love the old photos. I have one of my ex-father-in-law's confirmation, and a big one of my current husband's great aunt. Or maybe she is a second cousin twice removed. No one knows, but it's clearly an important photo with a big frame and curved glass so someone has to keep it. Lucky me. My favorite is one of the night shift at the mill - fifteen fellows young and old in their 1940s work clothes. Most of the young ones went off to war and never came home. Most of the older ones stayed home, ran the mill, and were grandfathers to kids I went to school with.

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    1. That photo sounds like something that could be made into a massively popular poster. The Olden Folk.

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  15. When my maternal grandfather died in 1976, I inherited the photo albums and the box of unorganized photos, apparently because the rest of the family didn't want them but felt they shouldn't just be discarded, so let's give them to the History major. Which was fine with me, because they're among my most cherished possessions--and would be even more cherished if they were labeled correctly, or even at all. When my mom died in 2004, I got that huge box of unlabeled photos, too, although most of them are of recent enough vintage that I can at least make an educated guess. By the way, did you know that you can remove pictures from those old sticky pages by carefully lifting one corner just a tiny bit, sliding a piece of waxed dental floss under it, and slowly and gently pulling the floss under the picture, from side to side, until it loosens the photograph without tearing it? It really works!

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    1. I did NOT! Thanks! I'll try that. If I remember.

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  16. I find that I rarely appear in any photographs, mainly due to me being the photographer. Underlying reason--I am not the attractive young girl of long ago and do not want to show how I look now. Better to be remembered as I was.

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    1. It helps if you have pictures of yourself as you was.

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  17. All the old photos in my possession are now digitized and on my laptop (with copies on an external hard drive). They became my screen saver so I get to see random photos every day. It's wonderful to have so many memory nudges - it's the gift that keeps on giving. My grandchildren and I pour over the slide show every time they visit. They ask who is who and how they are related and, in the process, situate themselves into an extended family. They also love seeing themselves on the screen. I'm in the process of putting selected photos on DVDs so they can be watched on the TV. What fun!

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    1. Man, you're organized. ALL your old photos? You SCANNED them all? There's a special spot in heaven for you, because God really would rather not do it himself.

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  18. I don't have much in the way of old photo albums, most of the photos I took are in envelopes with the negatives lost forever, I didn't even write the date or place on the back so I have to guess when and where by how many kids are in the photo and which house they're standing in. when I got the scanner I scanned in almost all of them and labelled them with where and approximate date. Usually just the year. I do have a Family Tree that my mum assembled with charts and photos of there were any available, it shows her family tree going right back to about 1834. I made four copies and gave one to each of my kids to continue with.

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    1. Too bad you haven't gone back before 1834. I have it on good authority that all of us are descended from Charlemagne. No photos though.

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  19. One of my favourite photos is an unlabelled one of my Grandma aged 9. My mum asked me how did I know Grandma was 9. I got out the photo of myself aged 9 and showed Mum the exact same face as Grandma's.

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    1. I don't know, I don't have any photos of grandma at the age I am now. I do have a photo of her at 80+ so I know what I might look like then.

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    2. Me too. Criss-cross waffle face wrinkles. Whee!

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  20. I think its very important to keep these photos but equally important to write on the back who they are.
    Unfortunately once my mother died, I am now not sure who the people in the sepia coloured photos are. She was a mine of information and I'm sure the future generations will wonder who we all are!
    Maggie x

    Nuts in May

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    1. I don't think I'm all that unusual in this--but I had no particular curiosity about anything, not what my parents were like as children, not what the rest of the family was like and what they did, until now, when everybody is dead.

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  21. Just remembered something. I used to visit a family friend who had known me since I was born, but she had Alzheimer's. On one visit, there was a photo on her dresser of people I didn't recognize. I knew most of her family from visits during my childhood to her home in PA. Her daughter told me that the picture had just appeared in her room, and she didn't know if her mother had stolen it or if someone else had put it there. But since she was in an Alzheimer's facility, none of the other residents knew who they were either. So the photo stayed.
    It was kind of sad.

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    1. There must be a sort of We're All One Big Human Family conclusion to be drawn from this.

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  22. I inherited a group photo from the recent passing of an uncle.

    On the back? "The whole group of us, last Tuesday."

    Well. That cleared that up.

    Pearl

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    1. It was given to exactly the right person :)

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  23. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! HA!

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  24. I wonder why photos are not organized since digital does date time and gps

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