Tuesday, February 7, 2012

"The Way We Were"

For reasons that I never really understood, my dad was absolutely opposed to owning a house or property of any kind.  He didn't mean for everyone, just for himself or his immediate family.  They always rented a house or an apartment.  The biggest thing they ever owned was a car (when they had one).  Both he and my mom worked hard to make our lives comfortable and to meet our needs.   We were a solid, hard-working, on the low-end-of-middle-class family.  We were never truly poor. We never were in need.  They never needed assistance from anyone.  Our family was always self-supporting and we never suffered from "want" of anything important.

Neither did we ever accumulate great wealth or expensive possessions.  No antiques, no valuable family heirlooms, no jewels, no artwork by Old Masters (or even New Wannabees!).  There was nothing of monetary value to be handed down to the next generation. 

The heritage our parents handed down to Little Sis and I was much more important.  We received love, morals, intelligence, values, judgement, humor, and tolerance.  And memories, wonderful, loving memories (mostly...for times were not always terrific....but the good surpasses the not-so-good by a country mile!)  But when it came to "things" there wasn't much.

There was one significant exception.  It was a treasure beyond price.

In the back of my parent's closet, there was a medium-sized canvas suitcase (for lack of a better word).  If I was very good and caught Mom at just the right moment, she would allow me to bring it out and examine the contents once or twice a year.  It was one of my very favorite things to do when I was a child.  I found those contents fascinating and never grew tired of looking at them.

Fast forward now to Little Sis's visit here last week. When I picked her up at the airport, I teased her a bit about her luggage because she had two suitcases, plus a good sized carry-on. After all, she was only staying for five days! She explained that she needed the extra suitcase for the ice packs for her arm )a rather large contraption that held two ice packs that would surround her arm on two sides and a couple of other things. Well, that made perfect sense; I was a bit embarrassed that I teased her.

That night, after dinner and getting settled, we were just talking and such. I went to get something and when I got back to the room, one of the suitcases was sitting on my sofa. She said that what was inside was for me.  I teased her again, asking if something was going to jump out at me.  She said no.  I didn't have a clue what was inside, but I slowly unzipped the case and lifted the lid.  It only took half a second for me to recognize immediately what the case contained.  I threw my arms around my Little Sis and started to cry.

Of course, it was our family treasure!  It never occurred to me that that would be inside.  It stunned me but made me very happy and of course, I cried for happy.  My Little Sis brought me the best possible gift.

By now, you have probably figured out what it contained.  That case held all of our family photographs going back years and years, even before I was born.  Pictures of my grandparents, my mom's brothers and sisters and cousins.  There were pictures of old boyfriends, old wedding photos, and photos of events from my childhood and then much later from Little Sis's childhood.  It was our family history in photos.  As I said, it was a treasure beyond price.

Over the course of years, several attempts were made to identify, date, and sort all the photos.  Invariably, however, we would get distracted by just looking at the photos and hearing the stories that went with them and the sorting project would go uncompleted.  Mom did, at some point, sort and date most of the photos by year.  But many of them remained unidentified.  We always thought we would get to it one day.

After Dad's death and Mom's declining health and move to a nursing facility, Little Sis had all of Mom's things put into storage where they remained until a couple of years after her death.  Little Sis ultimately removed them from storage and kept them, still in the canvas bag, in her home in Phoenix.  And there they sat.  I think it was two years ago that Little Sis made copies of some of the photos for me.  As I had no photos at all from my childhood or of some of the relatives, this was a big thing to me and I was grateful.  Still, there were many more old photos that I remembered, but hadn't seen for over 25 years.

I stayed up three nights in a row until 3:00 in the morning, just looking at them and remembering.   There are a very few that are from the early 1920's making them over 80 years old!  Most are from the 1930's to the mid 1950's.  Some of them made me laugh, some made me teary, but they all filled me with joy. 

Most of the people in those photos are gone now, but they will be with me always.   For us, our family heritage is memories of  "The Way We Were" and these photos are truly a treasure.

Mem'ries light the corners of my mind,
Misty water-colored mem'ries
of the way we were.

Scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind,
Smiles we gave to one another for the way we were.

Can it be that it was all so simple then?
Or has time rewritten every line?
If we had the chance to do it all again,
Tell me, would we, could we?

Mem'ries may be beautiful and yet
What's too painful to remember,
We simply choose to forget.
So it's the laughter we will remember
Whenever we remember
The way we were,
The way we were

What a wonderful thing for my baby sister to do for me. I love her to pieces anyway, but this was more than I ever expected.   She is the real treasure beyond price! 

I love you Little Sis, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart!

(If I can figure out how to do it, I'll try to scan a couple of them to include here. NOTE: Darn!  Didn't work, I'll try again tomorrow.)


  1. What a wonderful, thoughtful gift. Pictures are a history in themselves. I rue the days that my mother didn't write on the back of all those old photos. Some of which date back to the early '20's.
    One of my most precious treasures is a little 4x6 ring binder chocked full of family history, by relative on Mom's side, in which Mom, in her own "teacher" writing, kept births, deaths, marriages, divorces, etc. right up to the day she died. I have tried to keep it up, but have lost track of people over the years. Every time I get that book out, I think that I need to write to living cousins for updates. Hmmm, maybe your blog post has inspired me!!

  2. Yes, that is a WONDERFUL inheritance! I do hope you can get a couple of the pics on here. :)

  3. What a wonderful gift..there is nother better than seeing how things were..the young faces..the smiles..she's a great Sis - for sure!

  4. this is a beautiful story! with a lot of lessons!


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