The Archiver

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My dad passed away the morning after Father’s Day. I’ve been too sad to write until yesterday. We had spent much of my adult life estranged and had become close again just the last several years of his life as his health failed. We reconnected only after my Mom’s death. They had been divorced many years by then, but had remained good friends. After her death he fell apart. We all did.

Just this morning I am cleaning out closets and came across a small old box labeled “Mom’s Photos”…but they weren’t Mom’s – they were Dad’s. My guess is they had not been opened since my mother moved out of our big family home thirty-some years ago now. The box contained photographs from as early as the nineteen thirties…my dad as a baby held by his mom. Dad as a toddler in knickers and argyle socks, and as an Army Corporal during the Korean War. Precious treasure.

I never knew these photos existed. I had never seen a photograph of my father as a young man. I assumed there weren’t any. Trying to figure out who all of these other people were was perplexing. When I turned a photo over I discovered he had gone through this box in 1978 – the year my son was born – and labeled everything. Consciously or not, he meant this for Steven.

And consciously or not, he knew somehow the box would survive in my mother’s care. She was The Archiver.

The past two months since his passing have sparked many memories, of course…some expected, some surprising. The most surprising are all the many times he stepped up to the plate and came to my rescue. Sadly, I have only seen those in hindsight. I am a time-traveler of a certain sort…likely aware of stranger’s stories more often than my own.

He and my mom were married at the age of nineteen, having been life-long friends and high school sweethearts. I was born when they were twenty, and by then he was stationed in Texas waiting orders to ship overseas. His brother was in Korea serving on the front lines, and I think they tried not to send two sons from the same family. (That was back when the country still had it’s soul intact.) As it happened, they were my grandmother’s only two children. Thankfully the war ended, and he and my Uncle Bill came home safely, reluctant heroes.

Throughout my childhood my mother drove all of us nuts with her constant picture taking. To this day we have canisters of old home movies. Since cleaning out my mother’s house ten years ago I have stored the many boxes of old photographs, always meaning to go through them. Sort them into separate boxes for each of my siblings and myself, and for our children – the grandchildren she worshipped and adored.

When my great Aunt Edith passed away she left a file cabinet hidden in the back of her bedroom closet with a note: “Give this to Susan.” I thought, “Why me?!” It lives in the back of MY bedroom closet now. It is packed full of photos and momentos…daggerotpypes and marriage certificates brought over from Ireland during the famine.

What will I do with all of this? Surely, I had to keep it. I moved recently, downsizing dramatically. Culling a lifetime of accumulated collections, I decided my criteria for throwing things away: would I risk my life to save this in a fire or tsunami?! Lightening my load became easier the more I did it. It feels so freeing. I have often envied those who could live in a gypsy wagon.
But alas, I have moved into a 1,000 square foot cottage and it is just right for me…and I sure am glad I didn’t throw that little box away.

Thank You, Rose, for your encouraging words. Bless you.

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