Memories that won't fade or will they?

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It's raining off and on. A perfect time to tackle those plastic containers in the basement, packed with ancient frames, discolored photos in disarray and full of the odor of must. I must get rid of these disorganized recollections. With an eye to decluttering, I determined to review the scrapbooks, newspaper articles, yearbooks, postcards, and pictures of all sorts (babies, family portraits, field hockey, parades, awards, events).

As the oldest child and the girl, I got to be the recipient of memories of my parents. Of course, they saved birth certificates, baby pictures of their parents and siblings, activities, and family celebrations. So many photos of Christmas trees, full of blurring tinsel.

This task will be easy I thought — using this criteria to toss photos: 1) I can't see you; 2) I don't remember you, or 3) I don't want to remember you. And of 39 pictures of prairie dogs or dolphins, I need only keep one or none. After this initial survey, it turned out the remaining review wasn't so easy. Maybe I wasn't determined enough.

Why am I having so much trouble throwing out photos and memories? Maybe it's related to a sense that I am participating in making some people special to me disappear. If I consign Aunt Alice's baby pictures to the trash, is she gone?

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But isn't she anyway? I have looked at these pictures twice over 40 years. My son met few of these relatives in his childhood. My grandchildren will have no idea who these people in unusual clothes and faded pictures are.

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I decided to retake photos I wanted to keep, edit them to make them clearer, and save them on a digital picture frame.

I began to feel like I was never going to go outside again, so I modified this chore — do a bit now and some maybe later.

To make this review more meaningful, I sent relevant past photos to friends and families. I got lively responses. Recipients remembered specifics, details, names, and behavior that I had totally forgotten.

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Some memories were sad — the trip with two friends who didn't like each other, the family dinners where my father was ignored because he was Catholic and other side of the family Episcopalian, my brother's lonely passage, the last of my first husband, and friends who no longer are. But most were smile worthy or touching — my friends and I acting as spear carrying Amazon warriors wearing home made tunics at a local playhouse, my solo trip around the world, my house-mates and our parents at a gathering for a Mother's Day celebration, and my childhood at the beach.

How do I exit this job? Do I set a time limit? Do I simply stop and recover the containers? Do I empty containers without looking? Asking for me.

Roberta Devlin-Scherer has a doctorate from Temple University and was a professor at Seton Hall University for 20 years. She has written books, articles and poetry. She lives in Sunderland.


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