Do the needful thing and label your photos

Published 9:29 am Wednesday, March 4, 2015

I just spent some time in my family’s historical museum.

It’s a nice place. Admission is free. The exhibits are laid out in a haphazard fashion — little rhyme, less reason. The years were crammed together.

It could have been an attic, but it was a photo album. It had a hard cover with Japanese paintings on it that when lifted from the frame revealed not only the pages of photos, but a music box that no longer operated. I couldn’t remember the tune it had once played.

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The album had the odd but pleasant smell of dried flowers from an ancient corsage or corsages (impossible to tell anymore) that my mother had squirreled away. The flowers had been important to her and she had been important to me. This was one of the many charms of the aged photo album.

No new photos had been added to the album for many years. The pages would have made it easy to skip through it, but I had no desire to do so. I binge watched the pictures.

Looking at the stacked images from my past from before I even had a past made me feel very grown up. A photo of Grandpa Batt made me wish I knew more about him. A photo of Grandma Cook made me ache to read her voluminous diaries that she burned in a trash barrel before I had the chance to peruse them.

There was a dreamy quality to the images. I think that was because of the eyes. They peered out of the past like the Lone Ranger and the great horse Silver. The eyes were hopeful, determined and knowing. Smiling was rarer than in recent photos.

A number of men, who weren’t farmers attired in bibb overalls, wore suits, ties and nifty hats. The hats gave them a powerful, sometimes sinister appearance. I don’t think any of them were mobbed up, but I fully expected one of them to say to me, “Nice place you have here. You wouldn’t want anything to happen to it. I’m going to write down a number on a napkin and slide it over to you. You tell me if you think your protection is worth that much.”

The photos weren’t just of people. There were photos of some old houses, elderly cars, a few tractors and many faithful dogs. I’m sure some of the dogs put themselves into the photos while others needed to be coaxed. There were no selfies taken either by canines or humans. There weren’t enough photographs of old barns. There were none of outhouses, gas pumps, food or people eating food.

Food was so important to my family, as it is to every family. Food and conversation go together. At family reunions, one picnic table was designated the pie table. It wasn’t made out of pie, but it was covered with plates of varied kinds of pies. Just pie. Homemade pies with crusts of lard. Me, oh my. My family had its fair share of good cooks.

When someone demanded a photo of those gathered, mostly, folks marched outside and formed an echelon. It would be a keepsake. Again, there was some smiling, but not an abundance. My family is noted for its laughing and smiling, so I can only conclude that they just weren’t good at saying, “Cheese.”

I’m stuck with photos lacking grins, and I’m happy to have them. You can’t upgrade your family like it’s an airline ticket. Some try through divorce, others by entering the Federal Witness Protection Program. The family still was what it was.

I turned the pages slowly, stretching the boundaries of my memories. I lingered long in the hopes of refining my recollections.

Most family members were evident to me, even when disguised in different ages, most managed to look like themselves.

But then there were others in photographs. Untitled people. They were shadowy figures who left no names, messages or clues to their identification. They weren’t labeled.

Like a favorite professor of mine, I wanted to ask, “Who? What? When? Where?”

There are few left to ask who might know and none were readily available.

Perhaps those who framed the photos felt that following generations couldn’t be trusted with the information or wouldn’t care.

Digital has taken over the field of photography. That means that the number of photos has skyrocketed. Now there are even more unidentified photos.

I don’t think that people should be labeled unless they are in photographs. Then it should be required.

Do the needful.

Label your photos.

Your corsages, too.


Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.