The Brightest Shiniest Object of the Year

I walked through my front door last Saturday evening — the first time since Tuesday morning — at the end of my trip to the 2015 National Genealogical Society conference in Missouri, and my husband told me, “Open the box!”

“Uh, what box, babe?”

Grammy, my paternal grandmother, died in 1980, and Papa died in 1984 . . . the day before my 13th birthday.  Awesome, right?!  Anyway, they’ve been gone a long time.  The week after Papa passed away, his five children, along with their spouses and children, converged on the family home for the funeral and to get the business end of things started.  The eldest had been named executor, and he was well suited, but Papa & Grammy left behind a *lot* of stuff to be handled.  What I suspect, when it came to the family cache of photos, is that they divvied them up according to who was in the photo.  That make sense . . . Billy gets the photos that Billy is in.   But it also left each of the children with a skewed fraction of the family’s photographic story.  The oldest would’ve received a disproportionate number of photos from the early years of the marriage while the youngest would have no photos of the early years and a large number of photos from after the oldest had moved out.

Billy, my dad, is the 4th of the 5, and that is exactly what happened.  Knowing that I geek out over things like this, he gave me his portion of the family photos around 2006.  Regrettably, however, they had been damaged when San Antonio was hit by flood waters in late 1998 and were in poor condition . . . I had to toss over half of them.  I sent a plea to my four pairs of aunts and uncles:  Send me your photos.  I’ll scan and return them.

[crickets]

Then about 2013, the baby of the 5 brought me hers!  Woohoo!  She had copies of photos that I could tell were identical to some of my dad’s portion, only hers were pristine.  She even had what we suspect are engagement photos of their parents from 1935.  But that was almost the only photos she had prior to about 1948, when she was born.  Having married somewhat late in life, Papa & Grammy were already middle-aged by the time my aunt was born.

Last year, an uncle sent me a box of family photos, and it held many gems.  This uncle is married to my oldest aunt, and as I suspected, she had a bazillion photos from their early years, pre-WWII, that my dad and his baby sister did not.  She had two fabulous individual portraits of them, almost similar to the Glamour Shots of the 1990s.  She also had an album (one of those with black construction paper pages) of photos exclusively of Grammy’s family . . . these were the first photos I had *ever* seen of Grammy’s family.

This year’s box, sent to me from the same uncle, came in the mail Thursday while I was at the NGS conference.  Earlier this year, this particular uncle make the difficult decision to move my aunt into a home specializing in the care of those with Alzheimer’s and moved himself to a new town that’s closer to their only child . . . and he’s cleaning house.  Apparently, my family had been pacing, drooling and hand-wringing since then, in eager anticipation of its contents.  I honestly didn’t know what to expect.

I sliced open the tape, lifted the flaps and saw . . . photos.  Old photos.  Lots of old photos.  I lifted a layer to find . . . even more old photos.  Under those were morrrrre old photos.  They are dusty and faded and curled, but they. are. photos.

This box, while only about 1/2 a cubic foot, is waaaay larger and waaaay fabulouser (don’t argue with me, I’m an English teacher!) than the other portions.  Sorting the photos into chronological order and categories consumed an entire Saturday and the entire living room floor!  It contained:

  • Papa in infancy in 1911,
  • a glamorous and happy Grammy at age 19 in 1929,
  • 1935 engagement photos,
  • #1 child in infancy + newspaper birth announcement + four generation photo with #1, Papa, and Papa’s mother and grandparents,
  • #1’s first birthday,
  • family photo of Grammy’s mother with all 9 of her children in 1937,
  • #2 in infancy in 1938,
  • Papa’s Dec 1941 application, test scores and acceptance letter to Civil Service (he worked on bomb sight technology in San Antonio during WWII, and now I’ve got the paperwork that led him there from Abilene),
  • pay stubs covering 9 years,
  • misc membership cards covering 6 years,
  • 1952 poll tax receipts ($1.75 each, btw),
  • #3’s Cub Scout advancement cards,
  • almost 2/3 of the school photos of #2 and #4 (my dad, some of which I’ve never seen) + misc photos during those years,
  • #1 in Texas A&M Corps of Cadets,
  • #2’s 1960 graduation from UMHB,
  • #4’s Naval Air Reserve enlistment announcement in paper,
  • #1’s #1’s 1966 birth announcement
  • 1968 letters from #4’s new bride (my mom), and
  • #5’s 1969 wedding invitation.

1937 Madora Belle Smith Huges and her childrenI don’t know when I’ll get around to scanning them all.  Just sorting was a Herculean task.  But I am soooo grateful for the opportunity.

Oh, as an afterthought, I am haunted by the fact that I deliberately avoided the NGS conference sessions on topics such as photo preservation and curating artifacts in “Grandma’s Attic” because, after all, I’ve already gone through everything.  Hadn’t I?  Little did I know that an uncle had gone through his attic and some of those attic treasures were sitting on my kitchen table while I was skipping those sessions.

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