Monday, May 10, 2010

Swept Away



A new book out about compulsive hoarding called Stuff has me thinking about that age old question: If you had only five minutes to go through your house and keep just a few things, what would you keep?
In my downsizing over the last couple of years I've been dealing with letting go more than ever. It is easier to say good-bye to anything easily replaceable. Books, records/CDs, even clothing fits that category. I've parted with file cabinets of teaching materials and even a few "treasures" that I still have second thoughts about. But in the end, it is all just stuff.
It is also a way we define ourselves. Who am I now that I don't own? _________ (fill in the blank) Like most people, I would save photographs first. But what happens to them when we no longer own them? If we don't pass them on to immediate family what becomes of these documents?
Fortunately there are people who love the mystery of a good photograph. I see the bits and pieces of lives gone by in antique stores, flea-markets, garage sales, and even adorning a gifted artist's collage work. One of my favorite Portland rainy day activities is to touch base with some of my families old photo albums and scrap books. I've become the keeper of most of it. It's either my sister or me, and being the historian in the family, I've kept most of these things including a minor array of old photographs. Most of the trucks or suitcases my parents brought with them from NY to California in the late 1940s have moved on, so I have the keepable in storage bins, acid free boxes or clear plastic tubs.
That's when I found the photo shown here. My parents and my father's cousin (I think) are spending a day in the country sometime in the 1920s. That's my mom and dad messing around in the foreground. They are so young and strikingly carefree. This little scene depicts part of the "swept me off my feet" process that my mom always told me about. But there is an innocence here too. They were not alone. She was no doubt permitted to go because his cousin accompanied them. Someone else was there too. Someone who took that picture. Perhaps another woman; probably the cousin's girlfriend.
What intrigues me most is the boxing stance my mom is taking. Was my father messing with her? What prompted this friendly gesture of self-defense? I love how her smile, frozen in time, reveals she's able to take care of herself. I'm sure they had a lovely day. Their wedding was a few years away and right in the middle of The Great Depression. Big historical events guided their first decade together until a swipe at the American Dream in the San Fernando Valley became their post war focus. But on this day, so much is unknown...except, of course, what prompted this picture in this place on that day.

1 comment:

Biff Barnes said...

You are fortunate to have your family photos and to know the stories they represent. As an editor editor, I work with a lot of people creating memoir and family history books. One problem they often confront is that although they have inherited the family photo collection or albums, the stories behind those photos, and even the identities of the people in them, have been lost. Once that happens it's time to consign them to "antique stores, flea=markets, garage sales, and even an artist's collage work." This loss of the narrative of our family's experience, our heritage, is tragic.