Sunday, August 5, 2012

I threw someone's life away today

Figuratively speaking, of course. It was an odd feeling. I volunteer at the local historical society. We get donations all the time of stuff people think we can use. Sometimes we can. And sometimes, like today, it turns into a depressing project that involves hours of sorting through the bits and pieces of a person's life that are left after various family members have taken the photos, old letters, whatever, that mean something to them (or that they think they can sell). Then they hand us a box with the trash. Check stubs from a job that ended 50 years ago, school pictures of children that are worn out from being kept in a wallet for decades, receipts for union dues -- the decedent drove a truck delivering milk door to door in the 1940s, and they had a union -- and other bits and pieces that are basically meaningless out of context.

What to keep? What to jettison? The historian in me says to keep it all. The day may come when some researcher would like to see just what the wages were like for a milk truck driver back in 1948. The practical part says, but who's going to go looking in an obscure county museum for minutiae like that? In the end, it comes down to what makes sense to go into a file based on what people are usually looking for when they call the museum: family information. The man's high school diploma, family photos if they're labeled, a death certificate, some papers from the VA regarding his military service, and not much more. A log with hours worked and wages paid for a stint in a Ford assembly plant will go into our Ford Motor Company collection -- we keep anything related to Ford because, among other things, Ford had three sawmills in Baraga County so was a major influence on local history. And that's about it. Several shoe-boxes worth of paper distilled down to one not very fat file folder. The rest of it -- the wallet photos, most of the check stubs, several dozen unlabeled snapshots, greeting cards the man had saved, and a lot of other miscellaneous pieces of paper -- hit the waste basket.

I probably shouldn't have felt as depressed as I did when I saw those kids' photos go into the trash. They're all adults now, probably about the same age as me, and they'd already gone through the boxes and taken what they wanted. Besides, this man isn't going to be totally forgotten. He's now a file folder. If a generation or two from now his descendants come looking for information, they'll actually find something. That's more than is true for most of us.


  1. Yes, all us motherfuckers are going to die, but so are all of you cocksuckers. Hehehehehe

    But the spirit will go on.... See ya on the flip flop.

  2. It's both curious and common, within a generation of a person's life we are forgotten. For example, my parent lived rather average lives and now there's only me and maybe 2 or 3 others that have any knowledge of them.

  3. think of all the dead from the beginning of time...what does it matter? My cousin asked me if i wanted a tin-type of my great great Grandfather taken just before he died in the civil war. Why would I want it? I do value the picture of my first cat.
    the Ol'Buzzard

  4. Unlabeled photos are a real problem. That duck might be somebody's mother. But who knows. If the family didn't keep those photos, I guess pitching them was the only logical thing to do. But it is hard to consign someone's life to the trash bin. My sympathies.

  5. I went to a yard sale Saturday was a after the old lady dies and we get to get rid of all her shit as fast and cheap as possible yard sale..sad


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