My husband is finally doing a lot of clearing out of family memories these days.
As a former museum director, he has a great deal of respect for historical artifacts — those things that tell us who we were, and to some extent WHY we were the way we were. So our basement is full of interesting items, from a World War I composite-photographic map that was handled and examined by the Red Baron himself, as he and his cohorts planned bombing runs in 1916; to trunks and trunks of family materials that go back four or five generations, when his family came over from Germany and Austria in the 19th century.
He only has a daughter who has no interest in these things. A niece who wants one or two items. For the rest? He has offered them to various county or local museums (his family was from Connecticut and New Jersey) but none of them had any interest.
So now, he is going through them and getting rid of all but a few items.
And the things that are going into the dumpster are varied.
Books full of pressed flowers from some unknown female relative.
Items from a cross country trip in the 1930s by another relative that is full of such embarrassingly bigoted and stereotypical tourist claptrap that it makes us both shudder.
Faded and stained recipes, no longer even readable, kept by his grandfather, a baker.
But the things that are most poignant are the dozens and dozens of pictures from the late 19th and early 20th century that are of relations he does not known and cannot trace.
He isn’t sentimental about that. And neither am I, though for a different reason.
To me, the spirits of those people are gone. In my metaphysical/ philosophical purview, the souls have digested everything that can be learned from those lives, and have moved on — either to another incarnation or whatever else a soul can choose when it’s no longer confined by a body.
To save those pictures, when nobody wants them, is like hanging on to a threadbare coat that no one else will ever wear.
Could we sell them at some flea market? Oh, perhaps. But oddly, that bothers me more than tossing them — the idea that some stranger would hang them up for decorative value, never knowing or caring who was behind the eyes that looked out from the photograph.
It got me thinking about my own eventual disappearance. In this fraught world, with our ever-dwindling family line, who would know who I was in any picture?
It’s why I prefer leaving my legacy in books and words. Those will convey who I am — who I was — far better than any photograph, fading away in someone’s “what do I do with this” pile.