[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 10, 2021] ©2021
There’s a lot of hoarders in my family. Fortunately, I’m not one. Well, except for photos. But I personally think of photos as “artistic curation.”
As I’ve visited various relatives over the years, it’s become clear to me that the tendency to accumulate what could politely be referred to as an excessive number of possessions – particularly books and National Geographics - clearly runs in the family. What is it about National Geographics that make people hang on to them forever? I know people who have moved twelve times and while the dining room set didn’t always make the cut, the National Geographics invariably end up on the truck.
The most egregious example of mass accumulation in my own genetic network is the ancestral home in Hard-To-Get-There, Ohio, which has been continuously in the family since 1865. Let me just say that you can acquire a lot of stuff in 155 years. The last surviving occupant, my favorite aunt, died 12 years ago but left the hoard, er house, in a trust. My aunt encompassed the Hoarder Big 3: child of the Depression, ardent conservationist, and OCD packrat (maybe that’s four).
It was a hoarder perfect storm. The place was an absolute treasure trove of wonderful old stuff – Ladies Home Journals from the 1880s, gorgeous oil lamps, ornate ewers - intermixed, alas, with multiple cases of 40-year-old Jell-O, cartons of ratty underwear preserved in 1962 newspaper, and a huge freezer that was a veritable biohazard. Then there were the 10,000+ books, three-deep in the bookcases.
I have to confess that when I went to visit her over the years, the first thing I did was to check the latch on the upstairs bedroom window to make sure I could get out onto the roof and jump in case of fire. Because with the piles of old newspapers (which she intended to use for mulch for her gardens) and magazines (you can guess which kind) stacked up in every hallway, I figured I’d have approximately seven seconds to hurl myself out the window. I simply refused to have my Cause of Death be listed as “National Geographics.”
Little did I know what a fire trap the place really was. After my aunt died, we ordered up several 35-foot dumpsters and started dumping all the flattened cardboard boxes that had been on the back veranda in ever-increasing piles for as long as anyone could remember. I suddenly saw the color drain out of my husband’s face. Underneath it all was coal. Eight hundred pounds of coal. The old coal burning stove, unused for decades, was still in the living room. I suddenly realized that the seven seconds of escape time I always thought I’d had was actually two.
You may have noticed that I am carefully avoiding addressing my photo habit which, as noted, I genuinely consider to be in a different category. My sons disagree.
The kids had long been threatening to cremate me after my untimely death with the 65+ photo albums – an entire bookcase - that I had amassed over the years. It would be a two-fer; get rid of Mom and the albums all at once.
I am proud to say that my pandemic project last year was to cull the 65 albums to 32. For me it is heartbreaking to part with a single photo. It’s like erasing history.
I just love taking pictures, and might possibly have been (over)compensating for the fact that my parents probably took a total of 20 out-of-focus off-center black-and-white box camera photos of me before I was 18. My children’s lives would be documented.
When my younger son and then-fiancée wanted to do a slide show for their wedding, I hauled some 40 albums out to the dining room table. I swear my daughter-in-law said under her breath, “I hope this isn’t hereditary.”
I was always the (self-designated) family photographer, the absolutely most thankless job in the world. With every picture I looked at in my albums, I could replay the sound track of whining that went into getting everyone to pose for it. The irony, of course, is that years later, friends and family would look at these pictures and ooh and aah over them with delight.
Three years ago, I put together a 400-slide show of Olof and me to mark a milestone birthday. Afterwards, there were wonderful toasts made - Henry gave a 4-hanky tribute to both of us. I gave a toast to Olof, commenting on how different this evening would have been had Olof not come into our lives. Both kids simultaneously chimed, "200 fewer slides?
Yeah, you can put photos on CDs but honestly, you'd never look at them. Photos are meant to be shared in albums over a cup of cocoa, or depending on your haircut in that era, several bottles of wine. Besides, in ten years, no one will be able to read the current CDs. So maybe CDs are the ultimate solution: self-expiring photo storage.
There's hope, kids!