“The years of our life are threescore and ten,” wrote King David three thousand years ago in Psalm 90. People in their sixties who are approaching that milestone often review their past lives. That’s what a friend who is a psychotherapist told me recently. Thoughts, feelings, images, smells, sounds from our past all come unbidden into our consciousness — some pleasant, some painful. We can push them away or we can entertain them — watch them and feel them as they play out.
Triggers include old songs or passing by places where something significant occurred long ago. Sometimes it’s just a smell. It’s all those for me but lately it’s old photographs too. I thought I was done sorting through boxes of old pictures from my mother’s house in Lovell. Two years ago “Ma,” as everyone calls her, decided to go into assisted living and my nephew was invited to take over her place. We moved only the contents of her bedroom into her new facility, then children and grandchildren were invited to take whatever was meaningful to them. That made only a small dent in the house’s contents and my nephew was told he could keep or dispose of whatever was left. Last month he dropped off still another box of old photos we had overlooked.
One envelope from the box contained wallet-sized photos of more than seventy children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Those little pictures used to cover the entire front and one side of Ma’s refrigerator because her thirty-plus grandchildren sent her school pictures for every grade. I sorted those into envelopes for myself and my siblings now that each of us heads a three-generation extended family of our own. Most live in Greater Boston and all came up to bucolic Lovell, Maine for summers and vacations with Ma. Widowed at 52, she bought an old farmhouse here and lived in it for more than thirty years. Back in the twenties and thirties, Ma’s own grandmother brought her grandchildren for extended stays “out in the country” of Cochituate, now part of a Boston suburb called Wayland. Ma had such fond memories of those days, she wanted to repeat the process.
Also in the box were more pictures of myself and my siblings as we were growing up in the forties, fifties and sixties, some of which I had never seen. There were also more shots of my mother and her siblings from nearly a hundred years ago. There were photos of her and my father after they had eloped during World War II and before all us children came along in the baby boom. Some of those I’d never seen either.
Then one of my daughters gave me a photo album she retrieved from my late mother-in-law’s condominium with shots my immediate family from thirty and forty years ago. I spent two days at my computer scanning hundreds of these formerly one-of-a-kind keepsakes. Now they’re re-produceable with only a keystroke thanks to the wonders of digital imaging.
The rest is here.