Photo Albums: Can You Throw Them Away?
By Jacey Eckhart
The loose pictures were easy. The letters and school notebooks were fun. But the photo albums? It seemed like a sin to throw away another woman’s completed photo albums. Even if they did belong to my mother-in-law.
When Brad and I finished our Next Door Project (three PCS moves in 30 days), my husband decided the time was right to add a fourth move. He had the contents of his parents’ storage shed delivered to our new house. It included 15 giant tubs of memorabilia from his parents and both sets of grandparents. There were more than 40 photo albums in all, mostly of people he did not know. What would you have done with it all?
Brad started to sort and gave up after an hour. It hurt too much. “We will just put it in the attic for later,” he told me. Which was his code word for never.
Never is a NO for me.
So, with his permission, I started to sort. How exactly do you sort photo albums without dying of the guilt? I have all my own albums complete and carefully lined up on my bookcase. Truthfully, I have not put together an album in years. Maybe it is because all my pictures are on my computer now. Maybe it is because photo albums seem to be the work of a certain time in a woman’s life.
A photo album is a capstone project for your motherhood. A proof of work. It says, Here are the Christmases. The birthdays. The summer vacations. The first day of school pictures. The high school dances. Here are the things that were important to us. Here are the things we were trying to do right. What you save so carefully tells a story about who you are.
Oh. A story.
I’m a storyteller.
I love a good story.
Through that lens, suddenly each of their stories became so clear. Grandma Betty had a lot of golf pictures, pictures of friends, and pictures of herself and her charming husband, Kenny, out on the town. Grandma Gladys, a kindergarten teacher for nearly 50 years, traveled during their summers and had pictures of car trips to Yellowstone and Boulder Dam and the Alamo and Alaska and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. She must have had 500 pictures of people posed in front of her house. My mother-in-law’s albums were full of holidays, projects, and her report cards and papers saved from grade school and high school and college.
Suddenly, it was so easy to sort. I got rid of duplicates and pictures of people no one recognized and anything with mildew. I set aside packets of pictures for nephews and cousins. I saved pictures of what each of their houses looked like, of the businesses they ran, of the schools where they taught, of dresses the ladies wore to dances. My husband was delighted when I found a place for ten of the best albums on our own bookshelves in the living room. He carted two tubs of memorabilia upstairs—every attic needs a little treasure.
On our front porch, there were six contractor bags filled with the rest of the pictures (and a whole lotta guilt.) But inside, we saved their stories to surround our family with as we get ready to walk through all of our Next Doors and welcome everything that is coming soon.