Other People’s Faded Memories

Years after their passing, we may have the keepsakes and mementos that our parents accumulated and, which sometimes defined who they were. It’s the old black-and-white photos depicting an era that no longer exists and where some difficult choices must be made. If you are now the custodian of their memories, you may easily find yourself on a guilt trip at the thought of disposing them.

The trinkets and souvenirs of travel and life that have no intrinsic or monetary value except to the person who owned it and, which were capable of transporting them back to another time or place in their lives. This is the detritus of former lives most likely to linger for years in our own homes until we must make a decision regarding what to do with it. It’s like having a ghost in residence.

In my father’s possessions was an antique wood-jacketed album of black-and-white photos of his fishing exploits. To be painfully honest, it’s an album full of dead people and dead fish. Of the several dozen people depicted, my sister and I are the only ones still alive; and I have an exit sign slowly coming into focus.

The pictures were taken with a cheap and crappy box camera. None of our family members owned one of the status cameras of the day, be it a Leica or Nikon. Those working-mans’ cameras usually had a fixed, wide-angle lens of about 35mm, which tended to push people farther into the background in order to capture all the extraneous scenic and touristy stuff. Their direct flash tended to create glare, harshness and red eyes. Worse, few people really knew how to compose a picture. Photo quality was also affected by decades of improper storage whether in a damp basement or mounted on acid-based paper. We’re often left with a shoe box full of disorganized musty history that was processed through the corner drug store, oftentimes, still in their original envelopes.If you’re lucky, your parents may have mounted their photos in albums.My father carefully mounted some of his photos using photo mounts on black album paper and he wrote dates and names with a white-ink pen of some sort. He had a calligraphers’ handwriting and the album is easy to read. That he went through all this trouble tells me that the album was important to him. My sister, the custodian of the album, is moving so she passed the album on to my son, Joseph. I’m torn whether to advise my son to keep it as a memento of his grandfather or to simply cherry-pick a few photos and toss the rest. I’ll respect his decision.Compounding my decision, I knew many of those long-departed fishermen who now fish the beaches of the afterlife. We are now at least two generations beyond the people in those albums. My sons have no idea who most of these people were and their sons and daughters might care even less.

Contained within the album was a picture of our grandmother at 52 years of age, Uncle Sammy at 19 years old and Aunt Mary at 16 years old. Interestingly, you didn’t have to pose with a dead fish to be included in this album but it appears to have helped. The era is long gone and the memories can be bittersweet at times although the aroma of stale fish guts seems to linger, or am I imagining it?

I would not assume that my siblings would not be interested in taking some of the photos if you’re currently the custodian. But, If procrastination runs in your family, give them a deadline and stick to it.The best thing about dumpsters and garbage bins is that they don’t talk back, are not on a schedule and will accept anything you give them. You don’t even need an appointment.


In memory of my beloved brother,

Paul John Caparatta

May 3, 1944 - September 26, 2020

May you always have a pocket full of commas for me.

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