Putting my family in a box


I'm the one in the little overalls, 1954 (© Huffygirl)

My sister and I have started a family archive box.  We decided that almost anyone should be able to make room in their lives for one box. We don’t know where it will end up yet, but we figure we’ll make the box first, then coerce, or elect someone in the family, probably someone younger than us, to be the archivist. Once the archivist takes over, this will require some letting go on our part. Maybe the archivist will decide to rearrange everything, or throw out half of it (hope not) or scan it all and put it on Facebook.  We’ll figure that out later.

So in the meantime, we’re keeping it simple. We’re taking all the old miscellaneous clippings, from Uncle Stan’s obituary to photos of Daddy from the local paper, taping them to white paper with archival photo tape, and putting them into page protectors. There probably is a better way: we could make photocopies of all the newspaper clippings, or scan them into a digital files, but we’re doing low tech for now, because the family archivist might decide to change it all later.

We’ve also got big brown envelopes, one for each family member. So into the envelope labeled “Huffygirl” goes all my childhood stuff. In goes the First Communion group picture where I was made to stand in the second row because I didn’t have the official white shoes. In goes my two baby pictures. In goes the graduation programs, old report cards, and engagement

That's me with the tell-tale black shoes! (© Huffygirl)

announcement. In goes my wedding photo from the newspaper, taken back in the day when the photo featured only the bride, and a two-column article accompanied the picture, describing the bride’s and bridesmaid’s gowns. In goes all the school photos with hideous hair and silly looking glasses, the photos that make my kids say “Why did Dad marry YOU?”

In goes our parent’s wedding pictures, childhood pictures and the family photo album. In goes some of our parent’s things that we couldn’t decide who should take but didn’t know what to do with. Like the prayer book Mom carried up the aisle on her wedding day. The mother of pearl cover is brittle and breaking off from the rest of the book. But we couldn’t discard it. In goes Daddy’s  Army uniform insignia. Some are service bars, maybe some are medals, we can’t tell. As far as we know he didn’t do anything unusually heroic that would have merited an important medal that could go to a museum, so it’s going in the box.

We’re not sure how far the box should go – we’ve got high school graduation photos for most of Daddy’s siblings. Should we disperse these to our cousins or keep them as part of our family history? So far they’re going in the box. We’re thinking that our cousins already have these photos too, but maybe their parents weren’t as good about saving things as ours were, so who knows. But for now, in the box.

There’s still stuff left that can’t go in the box, that we still don’t know what to do with: Mom’s wedding dress, Daddy’s Army and Legion uniforms; Mom’s First Communion veil, circa 1935, and more. We could start another box, but

Mom and Dad, and me at the bottom of the picture (© Huffygirl)

then when would we stop? We could easily end up with multiple boxes of family things that get packed away somewhere because they’re too hard to store, and no one will ever look at because who wants to go through all those boxes? Saving so many boxes would defeat the purpose of preserving family history, as the task would become too lugubrious.  So, for now we’re sticking with distilling our family history and memories down to what will fit in one box. By the time the house is emptied and we’re ready to pound the “For Sale” sign into the dandelion-specked grass, we may have come up with a different plan. But for now, we’ll stick with our original intent: to put our family in a box.

© Huffygirl

House keeping


Mom and Dad, 1947 (© Huffygirl)

My family and I are cleaning out my parents house. It evokes a strange conglomeration of feelings – I’m puzzled, sad, happy, surprised, and mystified all at the same time.

Puzzled: why did Mom have twenty empty shoe boxes, complete with the tissue paper, silica gel, and shopping bag, in her closet? She had more shoe boxes than she had shoes, and most of her shoes were exactly the same – standard-issue senior citizen walkers, with Velcro straps. It couldn’t have been that she was trying to decide if she liked them, because almost every pair was exactly the same as the one before it.  Accompanying the shoes is every coat she’s bought for the last 20 years – all out of style, an array of sizes that no longer fit, yet there they were, lined up, carefully stored in garment bags, for what – the next depression?

Mom, Dad and kids, 1951 (© Huffygirl)

Sad: photos and papers from my parent’s growing-up years. Turns out Dad had  an eighth-grade diploma stating he was entitled to attend high school tuition free, but never went. My sister and I suspect his struggles with learning English at age 6 when he entered school had made school difficult and uncomfortable for him, so opted out. A picture of Dad and his mom at his sister’s wedding. It appears that Dad had walked her down the aisle, as their father had died a few years earlier. Now I understand why he seemed closer to her than he had to his other sisters. 

Dad, World War II, probably 1941. Note cigar in left hand. (© Huffygirl)

Happy: family photos from all sorts of events. Mom arm in arm with girlhood friends. Mom and Dad at what looks like a bridal shower. Their growing-up mementos, from a First Communion veil, holy cards for good behavior, diplomas, pictures of army buddies and unidentified relatives; all of we kid’s school pictures with our homely hair styles and tacky looking glasses, tucked lovingly into the corner of a drawer.

Surprised: workbooks from Mom’s classes for her GED. Looks like she struggled with math, which we never noticed  growing up, but she passed anyway. Mom’s sewing and knitting projects – we were surprised when she crotched little capes for our dolls, but she was more creative than we knew. Dad’s art books – we knew he had he dabbled in art after his retirement but didn’t know he studied sketching.

Dad and kids, around 1959. That's me on the right. (© Huffygirl)

Mystified: what to do with all of it? We don’t want to discard our family memories, but at the same time, don’t want to fill up our own homes with box after box of sentimental “stuff.”  What to do with Dad’s old army uniform and accoutrements? I’ve decided to have an old map detailing his army unit’s travels framed, but what about the rest of it? I’m trying to keep things I might actually use. There’s a ring of Mom’s I think I would wear, but what about the other jewelry that doesn’t suit my taste, but I have too many fond memories of playing with to easily discard? Maybe we should limit ourselves to each keeping what will fit in one box. But what will happen with that box years from now when my kids are forced to sort through it? Will anyone care about Uncle Stan’s obituary, Grandma’s old diploma and Grandpa’s Army engineer pin?

Emptying out a childhood home is a task that many of us will deal with at one time or another in our lives. How we sort it all out is a challenge. Keeping the memories close is a blessing.