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An Old Box of Photos Bring Tears, Connections and a Fresh Perspective - Living Forward
Life Transitions,  Midlife Women,  The Nine Facets,  Traditions,  Women Over 50

An Old Box of Photos Bring Tears, Connections and a Fresh Perspective

Treasures from Past Generations

Lifting the dusty-covered lid of the bulky gray Rubbermaid storage container, the musty smell of old paper caught me by surprise. I recognized the scent of years gone by and lives recorded on the photographs my mother packed away decades ago. My eyes caught sight of the gold-edged brown cardboard frame peeking out from beneath a manila folder bulging with loose black and white snapshots. I pulled it out.

Image by Igor Ovsyannykov from Pixabay

My heart raced as I realized what I had uncovered—my mother’s family pictures, five generations of images buried in that box. Reverently, I eased out the manila folder of loose photos out and placed it on the table. I pulled out several half-completed photo albums, her wedding album, decades-old greeting cards, and boxes of negatives. I recognized the boxes at the very bottom of the container. Narrow metal silver boxes filled with 35mm small cardboard slides of colored semi-transparent images. Back then, it was the equivalent of smartphone photo storage–the most cost-effective way to take and store family memories.  In my mind, I could see an image of my dad looking through the lens of his brown leather-covered Argus C-3 camera at his wife and three children standing stiffly on that Grand Canyon lookout decades earlier.

As I picked up each photo, I investigated it for any secrets it may hold. I had no idea they were in that box my sister sent me after my mom’s death over a year ago. Pictures of my parents as carefree 21-year-olds dating in Southern California, their wedding pictures, high school yearbooks, and my early baby pictures. There were family photos capturing decades of family holidays and summer vacations. Pictures of my great-grandparents and their extended families were in a smaller box. Sepia-toned posed portraits of well-dressed, formal, non-smiling relatives of several generations back. Mom, bless her heart, had meticulously labeled in her familiar beautiful handwriting, nearly every picture with the name, relation, and year.

These were my people, my tribe, my heritage. Who are they? What lives did they live? What did they do for a living? Their values? Their traditions?

I had discovered some personal family history. Like many of my friends, this discovery sent me on a backward journey to find my roots. I wanted to understand how I fit in with this family, understand their history, and try to share what I learn with my own sons and their children.

Mom had also saved many of my pictures from birth through college. With an eye of an interested bystander, I saw the fashions, clothes, and hairstyles I tried to make my own. Tears filled my eyes as I reflected on the memories of vacations and holidays and happy family times.

The Torchbearer, One of Nine Facets

That summer afternoon, I tapped into a new perspective and energy within–The Torchbearer, one of Nine Facets. The Torchbearer is an aspect of ourselves, offering us a lens that sheds light on our past and our own personal connection to it then brings it forward into our life today. This perspective also nudges us to consider what our legacy may be in the minds and hearts of those who follow us.

By now, I was very curious about my family history and began my own personal quest. I wish my mom and dad were alive today to sit together at the dining room table with all these pictures so I could learn about family members.

The Torchbearer, as I define it, is the keeper of legacy, stories and traditions, and generational continuity. It is the energy that encourages us to re-discover our family history, as well as forge links to future generations.

Legacy and Generational Continuity

It is human nature to desire a sense of consistency, continuity, and meaning. For many, we look for ways to carry family traditions and values forward and create our legacy. By doing so, we connect our past with future generations. It wasn’t until my late fifties when I had a broader life perspective, was I able to see where I had been, reflect more on family values, and my place in the family lineage.

Traditions and Culture

Our family culture, with its traditions and values, is the stew in which we were simmered. We identify certain scents, flavors, foods, and events with family. Often in our younger years, we tried to “fit in” with our friends, with what is in style, current trends, and predominant cultural norms. We may dismiss or even reject our family culture or values, as we try to fit in with our new community or seek our own individuality and values.

Woven deep into our being, later we may again long for those familiar flavors, traditions, and values we grew up with. Our behaviors, words, and actions may shift as we age, or maybe we just notice them.

What traditions have you brought forward from your own family of origin?

Are there family traditions you would like to re-establish with your own family?

Why now? Our Midlife Perspective

Midlife gives us perspective on our past, perhaps more objectively as we reflect on our own values and the traditions we have carried forward. These values and traditions help form us and our own families and create memories shared with our children or close friends over the years. They provide structure and foundations for our families and deepening relationships.

In our earlier years, we are busy gathering, collecting, and experiencing life. In our later years, we have the time and interest to reflect on our earlier traditions and family experiences with a fresh perspective, and often appreciation. This is often an excellent time to consider what to move out of our home and life, to create space for our present and future self.

Downsize your Treasures to Create Your Own “Box”

Like many this past year, I have been clearing and cleaning out. Going through boxes of old family photos adds an emotional dimension to be sure. Getting rid of such ‘treasures” is a mixed bag of emotions, some good, some not so good. The popularity of Marie ‘s book and the more recent The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning have hit a nerve with baby boomers as we begin to clear out decades of accumulated stuff.

Have you noticed today’s younger generation is less interested in our “treasures” or adding to their already full homes and lives? Prepare yourself for the possibility they don’t want your stuff. A few special items they choose are preferable to receiving boxes of unlabeled photos, or the family silver or crystal.

Although my grown sons may not want my “stuff”, they do enjoy hearing the occasional family stories and many family traditions. Just in case….I’m going to curate and label many of the photos, saving them in a smaller box for someone to open after I’m gone.

5 Things to Do Now

1. Have your DNA tested to learn your genetic history.
(Note of caution: results may surprise you.)

2. Describe important family or cultural traditions, their origin, and why they are important to you.

3. Write or record family stories, serious and funny. Sharing humorous anecdotes with the younger generation can be fun and memorable.

4. Gather up treasured family recipes and create a recipe book for family members.

5. Sort family photos and memorabilia with living family members. Curate, organize and label your own photos.

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