Every year my family puts out a calendar. When there are fifteen children and forty-plus grandchildren, and 10 great grand children, there are a lot of birthdays and anniversaries to keep track of.
Since I moved back here to Maryland, I've been helping with the calendar–taking over the picture-collecting and sorting, and laying out each month's photo pages. It never fails, no matter how many "cushion months" I give myself on the previous year's calendar, I find myself scrambling at the last minute to get it done. It's a lot of work, and my plate is full, but I don't have the heart to give it up or let it slide.
This winter, when I was putting something away for my grandmother in a back closet, I found a big box of slides hiding on a top shelf, boxes with faded labels and years scribbled on the sides. Weddings. Parties. Hand-raised owls and hawks. Big snow storms. Peacocks. Lambs and Jersey milk cows.
Last night, after everyone was in bed, I sat down at the dining room table, turned down the lights and clicked on the fan and bulb of my grandmother's old silver slide projector. I sat with the box of slides and told myself I'd just try to go through two or three boxes and see if there were any good pictures I could put in this year's calendar.
A few hours later, I found myself sitting among stacks of small, banded paper boxes, hard plastic cases and carousels and the original box, empty. I went through each slide, all the way to the bottom of the box.
I sorted, tried to make out faces, noticed how much someone's children look exactly like they did, when they were that age. Marveled at my grandmother, poolside–a handful of kids splashing in the water, a few toddlers watching from wooden playpens in the grass. Children spread around long wooden tables covered in newspaper on the patio, dipping eggs into colored water. Girls bareback on horses. Weddings on the front lawn with green tents, bright yellow table cloths and daisies. Volkswagen buses and BB guns.
Those boxes are full of family stories. Most I don't know. A few I do, but only because some things just don't seem to change. But because I'm a part of this family, I guess it does make it part of my history as well.
And somehow, I going to find a way to save these bits of our family's story before I box them back up and slide them into the top shelf of that closet.