Tackling your stash of family photos

Today, I’m thinking about pictures. Old family pictures. What is the perverse magic that makes people honor filled-to-the-brim boxes with promises that “someday” we’ll go through them all — and then miss them terribly in cases of hurricane or fire, when the first thing survivors do (after crying) is look through rubble, trying to find those old pictures?
I’m thinking now about a wonderful short editorial by Nancy Black, who runs the White Rock Weekly, a paper I read faithfully every Friday after picking it up at my Rotary meeting site. This, she said, was inspired by a call from a friend who, in the midst of downsizing, ran into a photo of a strange male with an even stranger inscription on its back: “The Last Picture of Stanley.” Who was Stanley? And why was this his last picture?
My son and I were luckier when we were recently together at the old house that has sheltered at least one member of our large extended family since 1945, and decided that — since many had promised, but no one had made good on that promise — we would take on the task of doing something with several large boxes of pictures — all ages, all types, all sizes — all jumbled up together.
We were remarkably lucky to find rather quickly that many of the pictures in the first box had full identifications on the back — thanks to one of my aunts, who had taken many pictures herself in her own lifetime and scrupulously scrapbooked them all. We blessed her for taking on these photos as well. And we found it was actually fun to identify what we could, and sort them by which of today’s family members should be their recipients.
I came home with a small suitcase full of pictures, neatly divided, and sent them promptly to new — permanent, I hoped — homes. That was fun! But then came another large batch from my son, who had found another box and used what we’d figured out together to do the best he could with these “newbies.” And I now have all of them, to check over, sort out and send on their various ways. (My sister, I know will be overjoyed that she will now, finally, have the “pony picture” that she’s been missing for decades.) At some time during my life as a child, almost every kid had a pony picture. I never did. Truth be told, I never missed having one taken — until recently, when I saw my sister’s.
In our “research,” my son and I came up with a few “Stanleys,” but not one that was tagged as a final picture. That kind of message on a photo’s back, unaccompanied by anything more, opens up many possibilities — not all of them pleasant. Had Stanley passed away? Or had he, for some reason of his own, refused to ever have another likeness taken of him? Maybe he had suffered a facial or other injury he never wanted recorded for posterity? Maybe — as did an old high school classmate of mine — he joined an order of monks that practices silence, and totally avoids photography?
I could go on wondering like this for much longer, but I’d rather just encourage you to go through that photo stash you’ve avoided for ages. Just as we did, you’ll find some of it challenging (names with no dates, or the opposite), venues vaguely familiar but not specified, great family gatherings with no clue as to what and where. Our old house now holds only a small number of such unidentified pictures, and whenever we have the next big family get-together, we’ll spread them all out and let everyone have a go at identification. I’m looking forward to that, whenever it may be.
So — why not tackle your own stash of random photos soon? No guarantee you won’t find some unsolvable mystery like Stanley’s last picture. But I can guarantee you’ll have a lot of fun!

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