When you’re recuperating from an illness, you find yourself with time on your hands. If you’re like me, you begin to clean and organize things. Photos and receipts and greeting cards pile up over the months and years, and it’s nice to go through them once in a while.



Receipts and greeting cards are easy to throw away, but photos are a little more difficult. I find that I’ve taken too many overexposed photos of Beautiful Scenery over the years, and it’s easy to toss most of them in the trash. When there are people in the photos, however, I hesitate, as if they exert some magical hold on me. Might some hypothetical future descendant muse over these photos, wondering at how distant and mysterious we were?



Well, hm. First of all: what descendants? Apart from a few mangy stuffed animals, I have no kids. I keep in touch with a few members of the next generation of my family, but none of them seems impassioned about family history.



Also, the sad truth is that objects like photos are not generally magical. I pull out old theater stubs and concert programs, examine them with regret, and toss them in the trash. They may have been magical for a little when then they were new, but time has taken their magic away. Photos are a little different, but even they lose their immediacy after a few decades.



How do you react when you see a photo of a distant ancestor? Curiosity, maybe; regret that you will never get to know them; sadness that things pass and people die. I think always of those family-reunion photos in which the kids are lying on the floor up front, clowning for the camera, and the older generations stand ranked behind them, with the oldest of all scrunched against the wall in back. I realized some years ago that (without ever quite realizing it) I had suddenly become one of those pale oldsters in the back of the photo – some forgotten great-uncle, what’s-his-name, the one who moved to Rhode Island and lived with another man and had no kids.






Well, hm.



Get to work sorting and labeling those photos, kids!



Maybe someone will remember you after you’re gone.


About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

7 Responses to Sorting

  1. I think you have to wade through a lot in that video to get to the song that is so very appropriate:
    Come take a look with me in an old fashioned picture book.
    Patience, the girl we see on the sand with the squint and parasol low.
    Sweethearts are sewn ‘tween the cloth of her cuff,
    A shell in her little tight hand; soon she’ll be going away
    With her bottle of sand tomorrow from the shores of yesterday.
    Come see her move and be in our old fashioned backward look,
    Just like an old movie, talking and real like when it was took.
    Bats, balls and Tomboys, cheeky and gruff,
    Faint sounds of a distant brass band, who rides the donkey today,
    Will our visions of tomorrow mingle with those of yesterday ?
    Come, close your eyes and hear melodies from an old music box,
    Tinkling as tandems and tears go tumbling like tresses and small perfumed locks,
    Sweet dreams were sewn ‘tween the years of her life
    A tear in her little kerchief, waving and fading away
    With her ottled sand tomorrow, from thnbe shores of yesterday.
    Will her visions of tomorrow mingle with those of yesterday ?
    Come take a look with me in an old fashioned picture book.

  2. I’m sorry you’re feeling sad. Although, it is late February, and almost everyone is in that winter blues funk. Mine is my usual, with an added layer of Willa will be deciding on a college to leave us for, and the deeper grief over my mother’s death. Maybe this isn’t the best time to be poring over the past. Go out and buy some daffodils and paint the pot instead. Do stuff that makes you happy. You deserve a break. ❤

  3. Not sad, but thoughtful. The weather’s beginning to brighten a bit, and my throat is improving, so maybe my mood will brighten too . . .

  4. starproms says:

    I only just saw this post. I wonder where it’s been in my Reader! Funny things happen on here sometimes. If it’s any consolation, I have three sons, but so far none of them is interested in family history. By the time they are (if they are) then I will be dead and gone and then it will be too late to ask me things. Hence I put a bit of it on here. It’s just one of those things, I suppose. I love your picture in this post. It tells so many stories.
    I’m on Facebook and during the last year I’ve reconnected to some ‘lost’ Australian cousins I last saw in the sixties when we were all children. The family, my uncle, auntie and six children emigrated to Aus. from Amsterdam to get some more space. While they were out there, they had two more children so now they have 8 all together. It has been really nice to chat with some of them and find an affinity. Facebook is a mixed blessing! but for me, finding these cousins again has been very uplifting.
    I try to live in the day but it is hard, isn’t it, when so much of our lives is in the past. Best to live for the day if we can though.

  5. Terribly hard to live in the moment, but terribly hard to live anywhere else.

    But things are getting better here. I’m feeling better week by week, and the spring is (almost) here in New England. I may actually get back to writing soon.

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