It's YOUR Family (For Now) | Newberry

It's YOUR Family (For Now)

I realize it is a major industry, responsible for supporting a large percentage of our population. I realize we have whole sections of the Book fair devoted to it. I acknowledge these things, but you can’t make me like ‘em, Marshmallow Milkshake.

Which doesn’t mean there isn’t somebody out there trying to, right now. Every crisis which comes along moves in several well-defined stages: Shock, Disbelief, Anger, etc. At some point between the first phase of the aftershock and the second comes one less well defined. That’s the wave of experts telling you how you OUGHT to feel about it. Stop Feeling Sorry For Yourself, is the main thrust of these lecturers. Grab Them Lemons and Make Lemonade! In the current Virus Crisis, this led to a reaction from less expert but no less passionate writers, whose response is basically, Verb Lemonade; I’m Catching Up On My Naps.

Having just stated my vague adherence to the latter group and hinted at the revulsion I feel toward those folks who expect you to take every bad experience and use it to make yourself a better person, I will nonetheless just ask you if you HAVE made use of your extra spare time. There’s a specific task which people put off until tomorrow virtually every day of their lives, and I thought I MIGHT just toss out a hint to you. This would make the life of a Book fair Manager just a wee bit easier.

Have you, um, done anything about all those shoeboxes full of family pictures?

You’ve been putting it off for some cold, snowy evening, picturing a cheerful family activity, perhaps with hot chocolate (lots of marshmallows) included. You were meaning to put them all in chronological order and write names on them and paste them into albums. Maybe, as you moved into the Tech Age, you thought of putting them all in order, writing the captions, and then scanning them into some Cloud-based collection for the edification of future generations.

Yes, yes, those of you who have never dealt with a photograph on paper are excused. Check your phones instead. You don’t REALLY need all fifty-four shots you took of the pink balloons at Cousin Fortran’s gender reveal party.

But for the rest of us: those pictures will be of value to future genealogists if they know whether that is your Aunt Booney in 2003 or your Great Uncle jasper in 1954. The Newberry Library will enshrine your albums with your family papers if things are properly labeled, or maybe some international health organization will keep them as an example of how those freckles developed through generations. The names and dates make the difference. Without them, you have just a box of miscellaneous faces and bodies. These wind up on the desks of Book Fair Managers who are forced into unfair moral dilemmas.

I’ve mentioned this before. There is currently a vogue Vernacular Photography, photos taken by amateur photographers expressing day to day life in the world. People are taking a cultural interest in those pictures of two year-olds with spaghetti all over their faces. Not only is the expression of everyday life of interest, but there’s a monster out there called the Internet, which devours thousands of photos each hour, sending them around the globe to feed the intellectual appetites of people who want to see one more cute kitty asleep on a windowsill or one more small child wilting in front of the lens so Grandma can see Precious in that wonderful snowsuit that’s three sizes too big so precious can grow into it.

So I sell these old unlabeled family pictures. Good pictures of old cars or children in Halloween costumes will always find a buyer. But I must inform you that only about ten percent of your snapshots are interesting in and of themselves. The temptation is to enhance the more run-of-the-mill pictures with creative details.

This two by three inch copy of somebody’s wedding photo. Would it hurt anybody, really, for me to advertise it as a rare picture of the couple whose Sexual Diet Cult led to the Chicago Kumquat Shortage of 1947? This unidentified child glaring at the camera: is it mere fraud to put his photo up for sale online as a portrait of the longlost love child of Elvis Presley and Marie Antoinette?

I have not given in to this temptation so far, but you may wish to make sure this does not happen to YOUR family photos by sitting down and labeling them this weekend. If you don’t know who the people are at this point, stave off my efforts by making up your own stories.

I call that grabbing the lemons and making a three-layer pistachio cake. And I can get back to this Pandemic Cookbook.