My family pictures are in a lovely box, on the bottom shelf of a bookcase in my office. I might add, in the closet, out of sight, out of mind, yet never long enough to become dusty. Some afternoons if the rain is just right – drizzling with no wind, I will sit on the porch and look through these photos.
Other days I might take the box to the living room sofa. Usually one or two are culled. A good many went into the family history albums I put together for my children for Christmas two years ago, shortly after my mother died at 95 ½. It was time to put old ghosts to bed.
This started with our Family Ancestry, then moved to Wedding Photos of my children’s dad and myself, then My Early Years, and The Children, then Later Years (with my grand kids and second husband), then The Next Generation (my children and a bit of genealogy of their spouses as well – in case any of my grand kids want to do more ancestry research.) After this I included a section for The Grandchildren, and finally, Some of my Writing – a copy of several short stories that have been published, some poetry I’ve written, and favorite blog posts, with a big picture of sunflowers.
I debated about this for some time. Would I write a memoir for my kids? Or just make photo albums for each of them? One day the puzzle fell into place. I decided to do an album for each, with chosen categories for sections of our lives together, which allowed me to write a narrative ‘letter’ to my children about those chosen years. I feel certain this was as much for me as it was for them. It reminded me that any one day of our lives together mattered as much to me as any other day in my life, even now.
The pictures themselves, the ones in the box, are pictures of family, friends, my children as babies, our lives at different times, houses where we lived with our Air Force moves, who went to school where, when they married and pictures of the grandchildren later.
There are also pictures of where we live now: quail on a fence, wild turkeys by the mailbox in the winter, probably looking for food, and in summer the raspberries, strawberries and rhubarb. There are flowers of all colors in our yards and others. One of my favorite old pictures is one of the tall camellias in my grandparent’s yard on Blount St. in Pensacola. Truth be told, many of the more current photos are probably still on my camera. Amazing what technology does to us. I should have more printed up, but that might mean a larger photo box. Oh, dear.
It all comes down to closing the loop for me, to snapping the carabiner shut. We are ready to go to the next phase of the photo box. My children want my husband and me move to Georgia, closer to my daughter and family. My husband and I bought our house here for our retirement home. Future pictures may be of this house in Spokane, WA or in a different house in Athens, GA. Who knows? If we move, I don’t I want a larger photo box. Thinking about things on a deeper level always creates chaos for me, the last thing I need.
For now, as I dig deeper into the photo box, I focus on yesterday – the pictures of my maternal grandmother, Mama Ellis. I was named after her. I see her dark brown eyes, and then find a picture of her mother, Margaret Johnson before she married. I have her blue eyes and think perhaps this is where my blue eyes came from. I wonder how these women lived with their young children. My mother and her sister, my Aunt Margie, were wearing old fashioned dresses made by my grandmother in pictures I have of them. They wore lace knee socks and white shoes, with perfectly neat and groomed hair and blue ribbons on their dresses. Their mother and her mother before her did all the things I do now without the dishwasher, inside laundry room, a car in the garage and the nearby grocery store. I can’t imagine getting a drink of water back then without it being a chore.
Trying to put myself into my great grandmother’s skin, the one with the clear blue eyes, I shudder to think she had 14 children. My grandmother, Ruth Ellis, was the 9th child born in this family. Their father, Woodson Peek, was a country doctor, probably why they were able to keep all but two of their children alive until adulthood.
The picture box is more than pictures. It’s my ancestry, my roots, and my children’s roots. It’s the cakes and pies and handed-down recipes I still have in the recipe box from my mom, Mary Alice Ellis Parks. It’s the picture of my maternal great grandparents in a horse and buggy, my grandfather Ellis’ first automobile. It’s the past, my past, that makes my future possible, and the futures of my children, their children and beyond. It makes me smile to know that my grandson’s middle name is Ellis.
Where I am from is the yellow corn fields of Larchwood, Iowa and the white sand beaches of Pensacola, Florida. My background includes South Carolina and Georgia, even Pennsylvania, I am told, and before that England, Ireland and Scotland. As are most of us, I am a mix of many people and families, in this and in other countries, as mixed up as the photos that cluster together in my photo box. This box lies safe and protected now, where I can look through it any time I want, to remember so many and so much. This sometimes happens in the middle of the night, if I can’t sleep.
When I close the lid on the box, my thoughts take a leap to the future. Who will take this box with them? Will it languish on another shelf until it becomes dusty and forgotten? Or will the photos be sorted into a smaller pile, one that can fit into a different box? That seems the logical thing to do, but which pictures will be saved?
Some things are not meant to be known, and we learn to be content to wonder. For now I know that all of the pictures I love are either in my children’s albums or in the box in my closet. It is enough for me now to love every single picture in the box.