Mel Walsh

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April 2, 2008
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Saving your past in boxes


I can pass for normal, I really can, but I wonder if I am, in fact, a garden-variety geezer. Or maybe something else? Like a nostalgia-addled, memory-ridden, photo-burdened acquisitor of memorabilia? You tell me.

Is it normal to be not just a pack rat, but a pack mule, riding around in life with hundred-pound sacks of old snapshots and mementos? Compare my experience with yours:

Did you save your dance cards from the 1950's? Did you save the wedding guest list your mom wrote and the dorm assignment mailed to you in 1954? Did you save birthday cards from the 70's, to-do lists from the 80's and your week-at-a-glance calendars for the last few decades?

Me, I can tell you what I needed to do in October 1970: "Decide about downstairs, meet with Sam Radelfinger, ZPG meeting." I can also tell you who came to Thanksgiving the same year. I even have the menu and the head count: 24.

Is this normal? Am I nuts or just a natural born historian?

Whatever I am, it's got to change. Because a keeper kind of person accumulates, and accumulates, and pretty soon her past is bigger than she is.

Case in point: We had a small leak in a pipe under the house where I stored my banker's boxes full of photos and memorabilia. Yesterday, I discovered the boxes were damp and today, boxes emptied, the entire house is littered with my past drying out. It's on the dining room table, the kitchen counters, the bed, the bookcases and the heat registers.

My parents' past is drying out along with mine: Photos taken at the seashore in 1932, pictures taken with a Brownie way back when skirts were longer and hair was shorter. Even my grandparents and great-grandparents are drying out on the dining room table.

Oh, the sweet smell of mildew in the morning.

So what do I do with the stuff I rescued? What do you do with your stuff? Do I pack it all away in archivally correct, see-through sleeves? That would fill about 20 huge binders and they would have no room to rest in this house, the shelf space being taken by Cranky Pants' photo albums from 1958 to 2008. (It takes one to know one.)

Should I scan and digitize it all, putting it on the Internet for future generations to see? Maybe give it to the kids and let them do with it as they will? Or - calling up some Zen energy - stop worrying about it and let go? Realize it is not my present and future life I am trying to hold onto, just images of lives long gone. Over.

Easy to say, hard to do.

Words to the wise

Well, I still haven't figured it out except to stop the damage and think before I store things. And I am not sure a digital camera is going to help.

Say I do take years of digital pics and transfer everything onto CD's. Well, 50 years from now, when my grandkids go searching for their pasts, will the computers of the future be able to read the media of today? My new computers can't read anything I did when computers first came out. And you do remember 78's, 45's and 33's? And CD's can disintegrate. On the other hand, I've heard there are archiving spots on the Internet, but how do I know they'll be in business in 2058?

Which is why I like physical images I can hold in my hand: Eyes and hands don't go out of style. Maybe I just take the best of the images - either scanned from the old pics or newly transferred from a digital camera - print them out on nice archival paper, stick a few of the very best in a safe deposit box for future generations, put some up around the house in frames and let the rest go. Maybe that will be progress.

Meanwhile, it looks as if I will be having dinner tonight with my great-grandmother on the table. I heard some of my ancestors used to end up under it, so that's progress too.

Mel Walsh is a gerontologist and certifiable geezer. Her book of advice for older women, "Hot Granny," is available at The Book Seller in Grass Valley and online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


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The Union Updated Apr 4, 2008 04:32AM Published Apr 2, 2008 03:00AM Copyright 2008 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.