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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: January 20, 2021

Picture Perfect

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,




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One of my covid winter projects is cleaning out my "personal papers" and keepsakes. The kind of things that have no monetary value, but that I kept for sentimental reasons. Examples are my high school yearbooks, my diplomas, awards, artwork and of course lots and lots of pictures. Some of the keepsakes were from my adult children's childhood, and some were from my extended family. I started with the oldest, and working my way forward. A book I've read, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo guided my decisions " if the object didn't make me feel warm inside, I tossed it.

I have sorted through ancestor pictures, verifying some identities and writing them on the back. Someday someone else will make decisions about what to keep and what to discard but at least they will know who the people are. I'm not tempted to throw any out, because back in their days having a photograph taken was a rare thing, and few pictures of these people exist. On a couple of very old photos from my father's office, I am too late, and the relationship is so distant or the photo so old, even my Mom doesn't know who the people are, sadly.

A similar conundrum is our photo albums. Mike and I each had some before we married 35+ years ago. I took my old ones apart as the book advises, discarding a lot of out of focus, and "who is this?" pictures, along with some "pretty trees" or "beautiful lake" ones that don't mean anything to me now, much less anyone else who would end up with the pictures. If you wonder why I bothered putting out of focus pictures in an album, I guess it was because back then, by the time you took a picture, waited, paid to have it developed and finally got it, you are so invested you couldn't bear to throw it out, even if you should!

That leaves several dozen large photo albums from our married life. Mike, my "IT person," scanned and uploaded nearly all of these photos to a "cloud." (I don't know where this cloud is but luckily our kids seem to know, and that's all that matters!) Maybe I'll be able to see this cloud from heaven. Anyway, that means the actual photos themselves are redundant, and we mulled their fate before agreeing to take those albums apart too. That is what the book on tidying up recommends.

Such an act isn't undertaken lightly. I have an emotional tie to what the pictures represent (not really to the pictures themselves, since I know I can find this cloud place and look at them.) But the technology of documenting our lives has changed so many times during my life " we went from mostly professional photography (when my grandparents and great-grandparents were alive) to personal cameras that required wind-up film, to instamatic cameras, to personal movie cameras (reel-to-reel) and slide projectors. Then it was gigantic video cameras that used big cassettes, digital cameras and now our phones do most of our visual documentation.

Every time the technology changed, some bright entrepreneurs figured out a way to "translate" the old into new mediums, and you can have all sorts of older technology digitalized now if you wish to. So I am confident that when this "cloud" is rendered obsolete, there will be some means of recapturing the pictures into whatever will come next " probably something that would astonish me!

So the albums have served their purpose, and they do take up lots of space, besides being too big to fit on standard bookshelves. After dwelling on it for a while, I "found the good" that could come of the dismantling.



I am partly in debt to an old friend who recently may have done something similar. I was surprised to get a mailed envelope full of old pictures of me that I don't think I'd ever seen before. I shared them with my kids who found them as highly entertaining (as did I.) I have been able to reciprocate to that friend in kind, an activity that was very enjoyable for me.

Many of our album pictures are similar to ones in my pre-marriage albums. They are out of focus, fading due to poor technology of the paper or the printing process, and some don't prompt any memory at all. No sense leaving this mess for our kids to deal with. But many of them are of people who are still important in our lives, people who probably have never seen the photos that we took of them. There are pictures of my brother as a young man. Pictures of my now adult nephews playing in cardboard boxes at our house in Marinette. Old friends I haven't seen in years. The pictures are in the cloud if I want them, but how fun to surprise these people with the actual pictures now. They aren't likely to drop in and spend hours with us paging through albums, but I can curate a selection for them I know they'll enjoy.

My siblings got a couple of these wrapped snapshots of themselves from my initial experiment with this project as part of their Christmas gift. A dear old friend in Texas got some photos of the two of us as single career women roommates, having fun and flaunting our really big hairstyles. (I had to both laugh and wince when I looked at my hair. That's part of the fun, to be sure.)

There were lots of pictures of the children of our friends, toddlers now grown up and married with kids of their own. And horses, dogs and cats, long gone; owned and loved by relatives and friends. Good memories of our beloved four-legged friends. All of these pictures are best appreciated by the humans who loved them the most, and not hidden away in our basement. There are a lot of gifts I could spend money on, but I am betting people will value the gift of these pictures more than most gifts I could get at a store.

I sort all these out into envelopes, smiling as I think about how surprised and much fun the recipients will have when they receive these unexpected gifts in the mail.

Now I take lots of photos with my phone. I can edit them, delete the ones that aren't the best, and in 30 seconds send them magically to my kids or my siblings. They automatically go to that "cloud thing," so I don't have to worry about losing them. I never miss a picture because I don't have a camera, nor do I have to send in film, wait, order reprints to share, or look for a flashbulb.

I take satisfaction in knowing I am not leaving the very time-consuming task of sorting all this stuff to anyone else. Besides, one else would enjoy it as much as I am.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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