Monday, January 11, 2010

Trying to Hang Onto History

While cleaning out the basement, I stumbled across a few things long forgotten.  Some were pleasant surprises which could continue to reside on a shelf now that they had been found.

A few however were sadly in need of attention or beyond repair.  It made me sad that I  had not taken the right steps to safeguard these things that were irreplaceable.

For years I had been looking for some linen napkins and a tablecloth that had been given to me by my mother-in-law.  They had originally belonged to her mother.  I found the bag hidden on the back of a shelf.  It had become the home to a family of rodents who had left the linens in shreds and had left other souvenirs.  Instead of being passed on to future generations, that bag went into the trash.  Note to self:  NEVER store anything edible in a paper bag!

I also found an oval shaped package with my mother’s handwriting on it.  I’m convinced that after her diagnosis of terminal cancer, she went around labeling things.  Not a bad idea.  But her attempt to package up these priceless photos was not adequate.  I don’t know what shape they were when she encountered them.  I’m guessing the chunk in the picture of the boys had already disappeared.

The photo of the young boys evokes bittersweet memories.  The older boy Rex at the age of 8 (in Minneapolis) was run over on a bridge by a team of runaway horses while he was riding his bicycle.  The bicycle hung in the garage for as long as my father could remember after that accident and his mother was never the same.  Young Rex could sing and dance in a day when Vaudeville was the rage.  His death was a blow to the entire family.  As a result of his death, the other boys were never allowed to ride a bike.  In the photo my father, who was actually quite thin, looks like the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

I also found a smaller black-and-white version of the boys.  Today I’m planning to take both photos to an expert in photo restoration on Capitol Hill.  Perhaps he can help me figure out how to salvage this piece of my family history.  I’m even wondering if a good artist could do a painting from the photographs.

The small photo of the boys was inside a folder containing my father's (probably) high school graduation picture. There is an uncanny resemblance to my son in the photo.

(I just realized the two photos of the boys are not the same, but were obviously taken during the same sitting.)

There are still things all over this house that need to be labeled and preserved in a better way.  I’m wondering if my children care enough about these things for me to make the effort to do so.  On the other hand, it seems a shame for those who came before me to languish unidentified in random photo albums or worse yet in a box of loose photos.  Maybe I need to at least take the approach of my mother in labeling things.  I think I’ll start before I get a terminal diagnosis and while I still remember who many of the people are.

Meanwhile, wish me luck in saving the photo of the boys.


Blogger Terry said...

Wonderful things. The B&W photo of the little boys is charming. The colored one looks like it was an overpainted photo and lost a lot of detail in the overpainting. Too bad about the linens. I know I have ruined a few nice family heirlooms through neglect too. Seems like you don't really appreciate them until you are older--at least I didn't.

4:25 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

Best wishes in the restoration and salvage of the photos, Barbara. There's definitely something to be said for that!

7:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Better late than never!

I imagine we've all lost some family items due to neglect or inappropriate storage. It is painful, I know...

I think it's great that you're labeling things and taking care of the photos. That's a gift to the others in your life.


7:36 PM  
Blogger Cyndy said...

It is always nice to come across things you haven't seen in years because you appreciate them more as the years go by. I hope those photos can be restored. What a great piece of family history!

1:30 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

Well, all things have a finite lifespan. Sometimes I lament the loss of family heirlooms, but after all, we can't keep everything and it's the nature of objects (and people, sadly!) to deteriorate. If you didn't use the linen all this time, maybe it's not so terrible that it has passed into history.

On the other hand, I think photos are always worth saving, and labeling is a good idea. We have a lot of family photos that aren't labeled, and I keep thinking I need to work on that. I hate walking into antique stores and seeing boxes full of unlabeled, anonymous ancestors offered for sale at nominal prices.

5:59 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

An update on the lost linens: During my Monday night yoga class, I suddenly decided to reclaim the bag of linens from the trash can, with their mouse droppings and stains. I discovered much to my surprise that only 3 napkins (out of 12) were damaged and there was a quarter-size hole in the very large table cloth. I am wondering if there is any way to re-weave linen or otherwise repair it? I could always strategically position a casserole or a wine bottle over that hole. :) In the worst case, I could make some more napkins out of the table cloth. I washed the whole lot in hot, Clorox-y water. The linens are now beautifully white as they sit in a plastic box, clearly labeled as once belonging to "Lena Small, grandmother of David."

6:09 PM  

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