Mrs. Penfire Begins a Project

Boxes. And boxes. And boxes…of photographs. Random envelopes of pictures. And a lot of albums, too. Do you have the kind of stash I’ve accumulated over the years? The albums contain pictures of me, my husband, and our two girls; for several years I kept up with dealing decks of prints into bargain priced albums, each photo slid into a pocket—keeping all in the order they were taken, with no thought to discarding blurry photos, unflattering pictures of people caught by the shutter at the moment they had opened their mouths or closed their eyes, or scenic shots that would become less and less identifiable as memories faded. The kids had fun paging through these albums, but eventually the fake leather covers got torn or frayed; the albums were abandoned on out-of-reach bookshelves or in random cabinets alongside old board games and jigsaw puzzles.

Meanwhile I began accumulating envelopes—small ones containing single prints or a few loose pictures, sent by family and friends over the years, large ones containing “official” school pictures and team photos—duplicates in various sizes, plus many (too many) envelopes from photofinishers containing prints and negatives from rolls of film we managed to get developed, looked at once, and set aside to be taken care of “later.”

In addition to those are dozens (many dozens) of photographs—some stuffed into faded, rumpled envelopes; some in antique albums with tooled fake leather covers (glued to fragile black paper); others jammed into scrapbooks among greeting cards, newspaper clippings, mementoes of long ago events—that came our way amid a random avalanche of “stuff” as we cleared out the houses of old people (my mother, my aunt and uncle) prior to moving them into assisted living residences—a process that came upon both them and us unexpectedly, confronted with suddenly failing health. Don’t all of us always think there will be more time—plenty of time—to make life’s transitions in an orderly fashion?

And so we find ourselves the keepers of not just our own unedited photo collections, but those of the older generation, most of them now in boxes. If you’re like me, you have these same kinds of boxes, boxes that you set aside thinking: “Oh, some day, when I have plenty of spare time, I’ll have to go through these boxes and organize all of this.” Well, guess what! Some day never really comes. But there does come a day of reckoning. The day you pull just one of those boxes out from under a bed…or find it on a closet shelf when looking for something else…and you say to yourself, “Uh oh!” And you realize you have deprived yourself and your family of a lot of entertainment, the kind that comes whenever you pull out an album, pass it around, and wait for the stories, questions, and laughter that it sparks . Plus, perhaps, if you take the long view: you’ve neglected your opportunity (duty?) to provide future generations with some clarity about the who’s who among their forebears—which of course requires identifying old pictures where possible (name, date, place).

My day of reckoning came the week before my cousins arrived for a visit. We were all going to Catalina Island together then coming back here (Manhattan Beach), see a few sights and just catch up. For us, catching up always involves sharing what we know of family history. I knew they had never seen any pictures of our grandparents, except for the last snapshot of a very old and unsmiling Grammy Flynn taken shortly before her final illness. And so I went looking for pictures I knew (or hoped) I had…in one of those boxes.

Yes. I pulled them out. I spent a good couple of hours digging through and found a pretty fascinating (and totally disorganized) treasure trove, including a few pictures of “Ma” and “Pa.” I vowed I would not simply pack that chaotic assortment of photographs away again.

So the boxes are here (some of them at least) stacked neatly (sort of) against the wall in my office. I’ve acquired some very nice leather-covered loose-leaf albums (I figure this will allow me to rearrange pages into some kind of logical sequence) and a raft of archival photo sleeves to accommodate various size photo prints. (I started out determined to use only paper pages and in the interest of avoiding plastic pages and thus saving the planet. But after a few tries at trying to position pre-glued corner anchors so pictures would like flat… I gave up on that idealistic dream.) I’ve scanned a bunch of prints, attempted to sort electronic files into some semblance of order, created some index pages, nearly filled one album. But I still have a long way to go.

Wish me luck!