Last summer while visiting my parents, my mom and I discussed the future. She would like to give up the 3 bedroom house and move to a small apartment, especially since my father is unable to help any longer with upkeep. “I never realized all the things he took care of,” she told me “until I had to do it all myself.” Inspired by this thought, she pulled out a box of things I had sent her over the years. “Take whatever you want,” she said. Thinking it might be one less thing for her to deal with, I sorted out the copies of literary journals, the unpublished manuscripts, and the photos of me, my kids and my life, leaving a photo of me with my dad in case she might like to have it later.
But bringing them home gave me pause. Recently I bought a big plastic container for the photo albums I had lovingly schlepped from Santa Fe to Minnesota. I have albums with glossy black’n’whites from my childhood including the shots of my cat and her kittens, many of which are just blobs of fur, my amateur poses of my younger sister and brother, 3 x 3 colors from my first marriage where I took a lot of shots of the cat, sundrenched photos of me when I was in Israel and priceless shots of my children (we have lost many along the way, hitch-hiking from Mexico to Israel. Don’t ask, it’s a long story), then albums stuffed with photos of my adventures with Michael: Desert arroyos and sacred sites around New Mexico, hot spring retreat in Colorado, dinner out of town in shady garden cafes. The casita we rented in Mexico and the tequila factory. The girls in their Guelaguetza costumes, the churches with their Saturday lines of couples and their families waiting to be married. In Italy, cafes in Rome after the museum tour, the gathering at the beach house with elderly neighbors, and the canal in Venice. Dinner parties celebrating birthdays, holidays or just getting together with friends and family in an assortment of locations. And after Michael’s death, the photos of Alejandro became an obsession. He was so handsome that I couldn’t get enough, hoping to save him for the future I knew we could not hold onto.
The lovely photos of me dressed up for performances with my women’s poetry group Word Dancers. The trip to New York where I posed in front of the Bowery Poetry Cub in my calf-length velvet trench coat and pink beret. The CD release party and my costume changes and the crowd. My Mexican outfits with their aprons and plastic carrying bags to perform in Día de los Muertos and Jugar con fuego.
From time to time, I wander down memory lane, to remember, to honor and celebrate where I have come from and the richness that has been my life. The blessing party when the condo was turned over to me for a while. The children I was nanny to and the ones in my pre-school class. The trip to San Francisco.
And then of course, the hundreds of photos of the first grandsons, taken by proud parents.
But I think of my mom’s decision to clear out the old stuff that she will not look at again. She knows exactly what she wants to keep, and it isn’t much. Who is left to enjoy her memories with her but me on my annual visit? And I think of my huge box of photo albums. They mean so much to me, they have captured a lifetime of love and sorrow, of adventures and quests. But who will want them when I am gone? Who else will even look at them with me? Alejandro used to, he was insatiably curious, it was way to pass the time. Occasionally someone visits me from the past and I will take them out. But for many of those photos, there is no one to know who the people in them are or what they mean to me. I once thought my grandchildren might want them. But now I know better. The boys might ask a question or two. But the curiosity to inquire after obscure moments in my past…the pain of Michaels’ depression, the shattering of throwing my sons’ ashes, the crazy feeling of swaying with Alejandro on a swinging bridge during a thunderstorm, these things they don’t want to know. Scanning them all onto the computer is not an option, by the way. I still need to hold them in my hands and the computer screen just isn’t the same. Although that is where the most recent ones are. I stopped taking photos when the digital cameras became popular. I lost the thrill or perhaps I don’t care to keep collecting memories. I know I will not be able to bear throwing them away. So what will I do, when the time comes to downsize my life so that it will fit the time I have left?