On a dresser in my bedroom is a cardboard box, about 9 inches by 6 inches by 7 inches. It contains things I intended to throw away, but I can’t bring myself to.
A year or so ago, I figured I needed to purge things that my children would not need or want when I am gone. Among those things to be purged are photographs.
All were shot with film cameras to capture moments involving friends and family. Many of the photos were taken in the 1980s and 1990s. Some were of my best friends, too many of whom have passed away. Framing, lighting, the rule of thirds and those things were all considered, but none were meant to carry any meaning for anyone beyond myself and people in the images.
The photos are a reminder that living to age 65 is not guaranteed. Accident, disease and other causes are always around to cut our lives short.
My children have not met most of the people in those photos. I haven’t seen most of these people in 30 years or more. So why would my descendants want them?
As much as I need to toss those old pictures, I can’t bring myself to do it just yet.
People who know me best outside of a work environment know that I tend to carry a camera with me. My wife says photography is my mental break, that when stresses of life start wearing me down, getting a photo of a riverboat at sunset, a wildflower beside a country road or sometimes a neighbor’s dog helps my mental state.
Prints are among my most treasured possessions. They have recorded my family history, and I have scanned old, old photos so my grandchildren can see how their multi-great-grandparents lived in Ohio and in West Virginia many decades ago.
The oldest prints in my possession are one of my mother when she was maybe 2 years old and my father as a young man. Oh, and one of the flatboat my grandparents lived on in the earliest years of the 1900s.
In my basement and elsewhere in my house are boxes and boxes of photos — family, landscapes, friends, nature, boats, bridges, dams, cars, events — from every decade of the past century and from this one. They’re physical reminders of moments, people and places that were important to me or to someone at one time.
As I was writing this, Stonewall Jackson came to mind. Think of the statues on the ground of the Capitol and ask why Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, a coal miner and veterans of war are memorialized in metal. It’s because those are the people who someone with influence thought needed to be remembered.
Those pictures in the box still mean something to me, and I’m not as ready to let them go as I should be, but they will mean nothing to my children. How much will Jackson and other figures memorialized with statues, busts and paintings really mean to people of today or tomorrow?
When politicians name major bridges, buildings, minor bridges, short sections of country road and any other piece of public property after themselves or their friends, it can become a joke. It does force us to ask ourselves, though, who deserves to be remembered for posterity, why and how. Just as I need to justify keeping all those pictures in that box.