A Sad Surprise in a Moving Box

Old photos bring back old memories and feelings.

Unpacking after a move is a funny thing. If you’ve organized your things properly and packed them into labeled boxes, you logically unpack things you need most first. And that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing since I moved from Arizona in May 2013 and started moving into my new home in early 2015. The kitchen and bathroom and bedroom items were first to be unpacked: pots and pans and utensils, toiletries and bathroom appliances and medicine cabinet contents, clothes and shoes and accessories. Then, as furniture locations were finalized and most of the finish work was done, I reached for boxes containing the extras: silk plants and baskets for atop my kitchen cabinets, collectibles to be arranged in new wall mounted displays, books for my library shelves, framed photographs for the walls. Each item that’s unpacked and put into its place makes my home more like my home.

Lexox Autumn
I love Lenox’s Autumn pattern, which was originally released back in 1918, but only used my set, which was a gift from my mother, three times. Make me an offer. I have service for 9 plus salad bowls and serving plates.

These days, there are still about a dozen packed boxes in my massive garage. Some will likely never be unpacked. Do I really need a set of Lenox china for up to nine dinner guests? Or real silver silverware? Why in the world did I collect all those pin-on buttons at computer shows in the 1990s and early 2000s? My matchbook collection was fun to add to after a dinner out, but who gives away matchbooks these days? And after writing more than 80 books and hundreds of articles, do I really need to keep the box of published clips I began accumulating in the late 1980s?

I’ve been going through the boxes — at least peeking inside them — in an effort to take inventory on what still needs to be unpacked and what can probably be disposed of. I’ve been shifting boxes to the shelves I built in my garage for long-term storage, separating them into three categories: store, sell, and unpack.

And that’s how I came upon the box labeled “Wall Art / Family Photos.” It had been at the bottom of a pile, slightly crushed. I peeked inside. Lots of frames, all carefully packed in bubble wrap. This needed to get unpacked. So later, when I took a break, I brought it upstairs to tend to when I had a chance.

That chance was yesterday evening. I put the box on my dining table and started pulling out the wrapped items, revealing them one after another.

First were two old framed still life prints of fruit. They aren’t very attractive, but they do have sentimental value. They’ve hung in every kitchen in every home I’ve lived in as an adult. It was good to see them. I have just the place for them in my new kitchen.

Then the framed puppy photo of my dog, Spot, who I’d gotten as a birthday present from my future wasband when we lived in our first house together in New Jersey. And a baby picture of me. And a group photo of me with my sister and brother, taken at a Sears photo studio about 20 years ago. And a photo of me standing by my first helicopter.

And then I got to the framed photo of my grandmother and her sister when they were kids. The photo was retouched, slightly enlarged, matted, and framed. It shows the two girls in sepia, sitting on the roof of their apartment building in the Bronx. My aunt Fanny is holding a small dog. I’d found the picture somewhere and had the touch-up work done, then made a framed print for my grandmother for Christmas one year. At the same time, I’d made one for myself.

Old Photo
The photo of my late father-in-law was tucked into the frame of the photo of my grandmother and her sister. I honestly don’t remember packing it, but I’m glad I did.

But it was not that photo that prompted this blog post. It was the more modern portrait of a man stuck into the side of the frame: my late father-in-law, Charlie.

I don’t remember packing the photo, but I must have. I always liked Charlie, who died suddenly and very unexpectedly of a massive heart attack only a year after he retired. He was fun and had a good sense of humor. Although he teased his wife mercilessly — which I’ve admitted elsewhere bothered me a lot — he took good care of her and stuck with her through thick and thin. She could not have been an easy person to live with and I suspect the teasing was one of the ways he dealt with it. But he was a man who understood what marriage was all about, what those vows really meant.

Unlike his son.

Early on in my divorce, when I was living alone my Wickenburg home, I put a photo of Charlie and his wife on my front door with a post-it note attached. The post-it note obscured Julia’s face, pointed to Charlie, and said something like “He would be ashamed of you.” My future wasband eventually saw the photo when he came to the house and took it away with him. I hope he got the message, but I doubt it.

But I know Charlie would have been ashamed of him. And I’m glad he was spared the pain our divorce likely would have caused him. I wish my family could have been spared the same pain.

Seeing his photo tucked into that frame reminded me of all this. It made me sad. Sad that he left so soon after his retirement, just at the point where he likely expected to relax and spend time with his family and friends. Sad that he was gone. Sad about all the things he’d missed.

And sad that his son couldn’t have been more like he was.

I’ve discarded or hidden away most of the reminders of the 29 years I spent with the man who betrayed my trust and broke my heart. But this is one I won’t put away. I’ll get a frame for Charlie’s photo and put it with the others on the table behind my sofa. Charlie is a man worth remembering.

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