I am the Weeping Keeper of Past Lives

It had been a beautiful Sunday, yet there I sat sobbing over old photos as the first “Sex and the City” movie played in the background. Certain parts of the movie always get to me–when Charlotte tells Carrie she’s pregnant, when Miranda and Steve reunite on the Brooklyn Bridge, when Carrie and Big get back together–but it wasn’t just that. It was all the lives piled up on the card table.

Somehow, having survived the deaths of my husband, his parents and his younger brother, I have become the keeper of the archives, boxes and boxes of photographs, slides, and memorabilia. The more I sell or give away, the more there seems to be. Like me, Fred’s dad never went anywhere without a camera. I carefully compiled the first 20 years or so of our marriage into albums, but I have my own boxes of prints and slides, including the black and white pictures I processed in my darkroom-happy years. There are pictures from life with my first husband. It was a life with so many promises never fulfilled. There are my grandparents, my parents, aunts, uncles and cousins, so many of them gone. I miss them all, and I weep. There’s the house we used to live in on Safari Drive. I weep.

There are the Lick photos, none of them properly stored, yet many surviving almost a century. It’s not the family I grew up with. I never met Fred’s grandparents. I never saw his mom and dad as young people or Fred and his brothers as little boys, yet here they are in countless photos. As Fred’s Alzheimer’s progressed and he forgot his history, I remembered it for him. Now that he’s gone, I look at that cute little boy with glasses and weep. I look his parents and weep. I look at pictures of Fred’s children, my stepchildren, as babies with their mom, and I weep. Some days I can’t believe I ever was part of this family, and yet it’s part of me. As I sort, I keep a few things for myself and I throw out the things that I don’t think will interest anyone anymore, but I keep sending boxes of pictures to Fred’s kids and his brother. It’s all paper, somebody’s click of the camera. Does anybody care? In the boxes from the storage locker, I also found love letters from Fred’s dad to his mom, the telegraph he received when he got his job at Boeing, and the one sent to Fred’s grandparents when he was born.These are precious, but who should have them? Surely not me.

There are other pictures that hurt because they emphasize the big chunk of Fred’s life when he was married to someone else. Wedding. Christmas. Babies. Crew-cut clean-shaven pix of Fred graduating from college, posing with his wife and his parents. He looks so different without his beard, yet I know that mouth, those eyes. I was 13 years old that year. I didn’t know Fred the way he looked then, and if I did, we could not have been lovers, but I still ache for him, for his smile, for his touch, his warmth.

Many of the pictures were taken on the countless cruises Fred’s parents took. Alaska, Panama, the Bahamas, Hawaii. While I don’t want to take a cruise, I miss traveling with my husband, and I wonder if I’ll ever get to those places on my unwritten bucket list. Do I want to go alone?

I find a framed 8 x 10 photo of a big black dog. I never met that dog, which belonged to my late brother-in-law, but I love dogs and plan to put this one on my wall because it makes me smile. There are 78 rpm records by artists I never heard of, and I have all the camera gear, valuable in its time, now nearly worthless because it isn’t digital. I don’t know what to do with these.

What will happen to all those pictures we’ve been taking in recent years, storing on our hard drives and tiny memory cards? Will they last long enough for descendants three or four generations down to spend an afternoon studying them, thinking about the people and places they depict and weeping while the E channel airs “Sex and the City” yet again? I worry that all of our memories will disappear, just like the stories I stored on floppy disks. Do we just put them on Facebook and then forget them?

I ended my cryfest with a glass of Portuguese red wine a friend brought to Nye Beach Writers Saturday night. That’s my heritage, and I could fill a room with those photos, too. I’ll probably cry. Cheers.

What about you? Do you have boxes of ancient photos? What do you do with them when the older generation is gone? Please share your stories.

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Author: Sue Fagalde Lick

writer/musician California native, Oregon resident Author of Freelancing for Newspapers, Shoes Full of Sand, Azorean Dreams, Stories Grandma Never Told, and Childless by Marriage. I have published hundreds of articles, plus essays, fiction and poetry. I teach writing workshops and offer individual editing and mentoring. I'm also pretty good at singing and playing guitar and piano.

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