Sunday, December 28, 2008

Memories with no one to remember them

This photograph was taken in 1925 or 1926. The girl on the left is my grandmother, Adeline Hellwig Kreiner.

Adeline died just over a year ago, and as my family was gathered for Christmas we were sorting through a cache of her photos. I thought I'd seen them all before, but this one, which initially was in the pile "nobody we know", jumped out at me. When I suggested the girl was Adeline, everyone agreed right away. That flirty, mischievous smile stayed with her to the end.

We threw out a big stack of old photos - friends of my grandmother, proud school photos of children and grandchildren of her friends... photos that might be memories for someone but not for us. My son A. did grab a selection of photos that he liked.

I wonder about that day on the beach. I imagine it was summer in Cleveland, Ohio or at least somewhere along Lake Erie because I don't think my Grandmother went anywhere further than a trolley ride from her home when she was growing up. It looks like a fun, happy moment - but there's no way to know, because there's no one to ask. It's a memory that is now gone.


  1. She looks good-natured and happy. So poignant, that the memory-keepers leave us these signs of life and it's all we have after they're gone.

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  3. I think - but I can't be sure - that I read - maybe one of the classic historians, probably Gibbon - about how one of the salient properties of history is that we don't get to choose what survives, or how we are interpreted. No matter how hard we try to record or influence how the future will understand us, the strangest things can happen.

    During our lives, we arrange photos, or music, or glass animals, and then when the intricate chunk of meat that sustains us is gone, the carefully constructed edifice that we built collapses in disarray, our gorgeous molecules are lyced. Some other organism comes along, picks up the pieces, and makes what use of them it can.

  4. The experience of throwing out other people's stuff after they die has made me more inclined to throw things out rather than saving them... I hate imagining people looking at my things and saying "why did he save this?"... Perhaps eventually I learn to stop accumulating things so I won't have to throw them out...