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Photo Box

By Jean Southworth

August,  2002

Recently Jim and Taylor returned from McCall and Annie from helping with the babes of Sacramento. Zach had no interest in leaving his electronic world so I stayed home to monitor him, his friends and the in-heat dog. It proved a delightful week for me. I got some quiet time in a house that got only ľ as dirty each time I vacated a room, with a boy that slept different hours than me, yet was available in the middle of the night should an emergency arise. This boy is actually pretty man-like these days.

Without the normal flow of laundry, dishes, garbage, cooking and driving, I did whatever struck my fancy. I finished books that had been gathering dust on my nightstand. I rented movies for the first time in over a year. I got a hot stone massage where they put rocks in between my toes. And I still had time to spare.

The storage closet beckoned. Dare I? Inside was the job of a lifetime: boxes of photos and negatives in a state of utter disorder. I scarcely knew how to begin. The start was a little rough. I drove around three hours on one of the hottest days of the year in Jimís car with malfunctioning air conditioning, searching for archival storage boxes, only to locate them in five minutes on the internet.

A week later, Iím nearly done. I feel a sense of accomplishment akin to losing ten pounds. I also feel a sense of gratitude for a good marriage, healthy children, and an abundant life.

My photo albums are fairly complete and our kids pore over them occasionally, but yesterday I got deep into reject photos, some that had not seen the light of day in 20 years. I discovered a few gems which I lined up on our long kitchen counter. It is a line of our family history. Pictures that didnít make the album are little treasures now. Most are simple, everyday glimpses of our life. Jim in his Air Force uniform laughing at toddler Zach in the laundry basket. Zach and Annie climbing in a giant box at Christmas, ignoring the presents. Little Annie asleep with her eyes looking more enormous than usual. Kids dressing up in impromptu costume parties. Taylor and Jim playing Barney board games. Zach and Annie after a bath, rolled in towels, piled atop each other on the couch like a couple sausages.

I took fewer photos when Zach and Annie were very little and money was tight. Probably I was just trying to survive. The stack of photos from our two years at Faircrest Ct. just slightly surpasses what I take in a summer today. Even the lack of photos tells me something of our history. I think of Melanie now, with her three babies under 2 and a half years. Donít worry, sis. Someday, youíll breath again.

The developer envelopes provide nearly forgotten addresses for our various homes in Portland, Virginia, Arizona and Salem. While I threw away most envelopes in my organization, I kept a handful as historical reminders of the many places weíve lived.

Some of the photos are surreal. Jim and me standing in front of the World Trade Center, then inside on the observation deck, pretending like weíre falling off. Good fun then, now almost too much to see. How the meaning of a single photograph can change over timeÖ

Or the photos of friends whose marriages didnít last. They are so young, attractive and hopeful in their photos. I want to yell back through the years at them, to warn them to guard what is precious.

I am fortunate: our familyís historical path is largely sweet. I donít think I could accomplish this organizational task otherwise. The sense of nostalgia overwhelms me. This would be an unbearable task if I didnít already know the satisfied outcome to the line of photos in the kitchen.

Everyoneís back home now. My cameraís loaded. The house grows messy. Itís OK.