Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Lost Volumes

I never met the man, 
but I've sure enjoyed watching his life unfold, 
more than ninety years after it happened. 

I went to an auction in Auburn, Indiana five years ago and found a bunch of things I didn't need, such as a lamp I never got to work, a desk bigger than the room in which I intended to use it and a set of chipped ice cream bowls. 

Don't even act like you're surprised. They were in the $5 and under pile.

Oh...and an entire box of old photos, albums and greeting cards. A jackpot for a gal like me who loves history and once dreamt of a job with Hallmark. Who am I kidding? I'm still anxiously awaiting the day that one of their Execs stumbles upon this blog. I sure hope it's the day that I have no grammatical errors. 

Anyway, as I briefly thumbed through the box of photos, I couldn't help but think that it was some sort of mistake. These weren't old torn greetings cards or scenic photos; these were documentation of an individual's life. My stomach hurt in a way that I knew it wasn't hunger pains. I let the box be (you can't appear too interested in those situations - folks always want what others do, and auctioneers who know the bidders' desires are dangerous, in themselves), stepped away and roamed through other tables of "junk" (aka treasures).

At the end of the day, I walked away with the box for $5.00. 

Shortly following that auction, I dove into the box that intrigued me so much. I spent the Friday and Saturday nights of one weekend in my dear little (first) house and sorted through photos of Richard, born in 1921.  The more I saw, the more sadness came over me. 


Richard's Birthday, 20 years apart. 
Camping trips. 
First loves. 
The service. 
First home. 

This man's entire history was in one box. 
Sold for $5.00 at a general auction. 
Weekly I've turn Richard's life photos into greeting cards for family and friends. I sent one just this week to dear friends who just had their second son. 

Richard was a happy man. Who adored his wife. Served his country. Loved his sister, Catherine. Traveled to California. 

But who would know that? His lost volumes were sold for $5.00. 
Photo by paper photo I've tried to imagine what he was doing or feeling in the moment, so many generations ago. I've sorted his photos, piled them and stored them. Convinced that my organization and commitment will preserve his story, I've also began thinking of my own. 

A coworker came into my office this week and tossed a Snapfish package at me. 

"We only use Snapfish for Christmas cards," Brandon said as he relayed the large photo tube to me. (Don't worry boss, I ordered poster size aerial photos of our Randolph County locations for the new meeting room. My time on Snapfish was legit). 

"I've never used them, but made an account to get this meeting room finished and wow - there is a lot on there," I told him, as I unrolled my co-op posters. 

He revealed that he can't remember the last time his family physically printed a photo. I sat back in my chair and wondered about the same. 

I remember in high school we stood in line at Wal-Mart the afternoon following a dance to print and finally see the photos taken the night before. There were no retakes. There were no deletes. There were no selfies. There was, however, a lot of wasted film. 

But do you know what? I can still look back on those photos and remember the naive fun we had. 

I told the coworker that he better start printing the memories. As a father of three daughters, we was bound to need photos for a wedding slideshow - or three. He laughed but seemed to really digest that idea. No father of daughters likes to talk about weddings, I guess. 

Our conversation made me think back to Richard, born in 1921, and all the quick glimpses of his life that I have. Thank goodness I have them. The negatives, too. 

Just as a family has lost 
volumes of one man's life, 
our high-speed generation is 
losing volumes every single day 
with technology. 

When was the last time you printed off a picture? A real photo that generations to come can hold? Something you can write on the back of, identifying who was in the photo and the year it was taken? Something physical, not digital. Trust me: jpegs  and RAW files won't be around forever. 

And, how will we document your battle 
with head lice if we don't print 
and write on the back of photos?

I have no great way to store the photos that I speak of (I could do an entire blog on the photos Cody and I sorted or tossed (burned) once we married and began living together) because I get sick of storing my own. But I think they're important. They're physical proof of the life we're living now. They're the stock show photos our grandsons will one day find and frame and the wedding photos our great granddaughters will one day put in a locket. They matter. Don't post your story, print it.

As for Richard, I hope that his lost volumes inspire you to print - if only ten per year - photos that document your family history. I'll continue to send his story across state lines and time zones in an effort to pass his unidentified legacy on. 

Can we commit to no more lost volumes?

Or, at least can we all pledge not to sell our great-grandparents love story in a glorified garage sale? 

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