Mom’s Boxes Part 2: Panning for gold
When my mom died, in 2001, she left us 33 boxes of scrapbooks and other memorabilia. Not 33 scrapbooks; 33 moving boxes full of them. In Mom’s Boxes Part 1: The Shed I described what we did with them for 16 years, and why I’m finally going through them now with my brother Mike.
We’re making progress…..
I’ve been posting on Facebook about this project (#momsboxes), including photos of some of our great finds. People leave comments like, “Wow, what a wonderful treasure trove you’ve got there!”
Well….yes and no. The analogy that comes to mind is panning for gold. Do you know how many tons of sand and silt one must sift through to find a few nuggets of gold?!
My brother and I get together, on average, once a week to go through a couple more boxes. Or, like this morning, one photo album (which we’d never seen, of Mom’s teenage and young adult years — gold!) and one giant scrapbook that must have weighed 20 lbs. before we dismantled it (largely sand and silt).
Gold is in the eye of the beholder…
Here is some of the best things we’ve found:
- Photos, photos, photos. Some of them I’d seen a hundred times before, and others I’d never seen before in my life. After flipping through the albums quickly, as we encounter them, we are setting them aside for further processing. My goal, as with the overall volume of boxes, is to purge the photos, as well as the other “keep” categories, by 80%, keeping only the best and most significant of the bunch.
- Cassette recordings. This is another project unto itself. The recordings we have listened to so far are really boring. (Sand and silt?) But they contain my mom’s voice. (Gold?) So we feel compelled to listen to them all (eventually) in case one is really interesting or contains evidence of her piano musicianship. (I’m still mad at her for not letting me record a mini-concert she performed at what turned out to be her last visit to my house in California.)
- Programs and newspaper articles about concerts, musicals, plays, and church events in which she performed, or for which she provided the music.
…as is sand and silt.
Here’s a sampling of other things we’ve found thus far. I hesitate to say what we’re getting rid of entirely, or keeping only 20% of, lest you (or someone who knew my mom) consider it to be gold and protest our getting rid of it!
- Greeting cards. From people we know, and people we don’t know. Many, many binders and scrapbooks full of them. We are looking briefly at each one to see if it contains anything of genealogical interest and ditching most of it. Sometimes we get it into our heads that some of the vintage cards might be worth something on eBay (echoing my clients’ tendencies to think their stuff is valuable), or useful to a paper craft artist. Other times we are more ruthless. Sometimes they are displayed such that each card is visible and can be readily appreciated. Other times we find layer upon layer of them, all stuck together and unsalvageable.
- Programs and ticket stubs from concerts and plays she attended. (I’m saving some of them for a photo collage, to commemorate her life-long interest and involvement in music and the arts. But it’s not all in good shape, and we’re not keeping it all, either!)
- Monthly newsletters — years worth — from my aunt’s old church in Connecticut.
- Cartoons from the Saturday Evening Post. I believe these to be Grandma’s. And I do not believe it to be a valuable collection.
The jury’s still out, but we’ve already ditched a bunch of them:
- Letters received. Every letter that anyone ever wrote to her in her entire life. Including printed out emails from us kids.
- Letters sent. A copy of every letter that she ever wrote to anyone in her entire life after she discovered copy machines.
It’s not that any one letter, or card, or scrap of memorabilia isn’t interesting in its own way. It’s that there is SO. MUCH. OF. IT. My mom, and grandma, and their family and friends, were world-class frequent letter writers! Too bad none of them was famous, or I truly would have a gold mine here!
For the most part, the photos are in pretty good shape, which is remarkable considering that the shed where they have lived for 16 years is not climate controlled and doubles as a gardening shed. But the rest of the paper….yikes! We’re talking about some cards attached with little photo corners, but mostly glued to paper, taped to paper, and stapled to paper. Sometimes all of the above on the same scrapbook page! Many of the items are stuck to each other, and in a way that is impossible to separate them without sacrificing one or both pieces. There was no such thing as acid-free archival storage (outside of a museum, maybe) in those days!
This is the hard part, of course. We decided to, for the most part, make all the decisions ourselves, and not ask anyone else’s opinion on what to keep and what to ditch. The goal is to digitize the gold nuggets and share them with the family. We’re doing our best. I hope they appreciate our having got rid of the sand and silt so they don’t have to. We could spend a lifetime cataloguing everything, asking each person Mom ever knew if they want their letters back, etc. If you knew her, please don’t ask! I’d really hate to disappoint you.
Since I started this project, a number of people have told me: “I have the same boxes!”
Did your parent(s) leave you gold? Or silt and sand? How did you deal with it? Or, how do you plan to deal with it?
Please share with us in the comments below!
Future Mom’s Boxes episodes: The Gangster Hideout, Saving the Photos, Sharing the Photos, ???
Copyright 2017 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
Social media links directly to this page are encouraged!
Please contact me for other types of reprint permission.