Sunday, March 31, 2013


With moving, packing and unpacking, you look at items that you have perhaps gone years without really seeing. Some have been in boxes, some just hung on the wall and you didn't look at them. Books, a card, a ticket to a Twins or Royals game. A Playbill from Broadway, a photo of a walk across the Golden Gate bridge, a wedding, things that trigger memories as vivid as yesterday.

Several boxes have been uncovered containing old pictures, and we have to confess that we don't know what to do with them. In Kansas City, we had a huge basement and a huge attic to just set aside the things we didn't want to see and use daily, but that we couldn't bear to throw or give away. Now, there is no basement (if there were, it would be full of water given the water table) and the attic is...well, just an attic. Besides, it gets hot in Kansas City, but it gets really hot in Virginia.

Uncovered a picture taken of me when I was about eight years old. Buzz cut hair, old tee shirt, quite a ragamuffin look. I also opened a high school annual. Both of these show why I tend to wear my hair a bit full on the sides! Ears. The high school annual reveals a black and white picture of the basketball team and the way the flash photo was taken shows ten or twelve boys lined up with various expressions and blobs of bright white attached to the sides of their heads. Their ears are bright semaphors, bobbing out there to catch the eye. As one of our teammates said of another, "If you stuck an egg beater up his ass he'd fly."

One of the pictures we found is of, apparently, my paternal grandmother's parents from Sweden. It is the typical somber, sepia-toned picture of the late 1800's, my copy has hung on the wall for many years and is extremely well-preserved, being in the neighborhood of 150 years old. Striking, and accentuated by the hair style, are...yep, I come by them honestly.

The great-grandparents' picture is one of those that you see daily, but that doesn't exactly register as an observance or a conscious act, like, "Oh, there are the great-grandparents again." However, when we were in Sweden, we put a bouquet of flowers on their graves in the little churchyard. The church where my grandmother was confirmed. And then we went to a buffet dinner served at some relatives' house, an older generation who did not speak English. Their children were quite proficient in English which was handy since all I could say was "Tak su micket," which is probably spelled wrong but got across the message, "Thanks so much," but didn't carry the message when I needed to use the bathroom.

Right there on their wall in Skurup, Sweden was the same oval picture in the same frame as the one back home, ears and all, and it turned out that the people in the picture were their great-grandparents, also.

My high-school friend and Brazillian correspondent, Gerry, has been writing about his recent discovery of genealogical information, most of which was not even a hint for most of this life. He also has been recounting (and he writes well, so it is enjoyable as well as informative) stories about his grandparents, and especially about his grandfather, Stanley Pilakowski. Since I knew a lot of the people in the stories, it has been immensely enjoyable.

Gerry has posed the question about the way that generation, the ones born in the 19th century, had a taciturn, distant, un-engaging emotional detachment. As a child, and Gerry was always quite verbal, I think, this had to be almost a rejection, and it is one that I can identify with since my paternal grandfather (the only one I knew as the other grandparents were long dead by the time I arrived) was very quiet. I remember yammering on to him and receiving one syllable answers.

His thesis, that emotional detachment was necessary to maintain your sanity and balance when so many family members died--it was almost routine--has a lot of logic. I remember "visiting the cemeteries" with my mother, who gathered flowers from her large garden, prepared arrangements and placed them on the graves of family members and others in several cemeteries every Memorial Day, or as she often called it, Decoration Day. One cemetery was just a couple of miles from the farm, on a hill overlooking the valley, called the "Lingle Cemetery" after the people who lived nearby and who cared for it for decades. There were so many headstones marking the deaths of little ones, children taken by one disease or another, and I remember thinking at the time that it had to be devastating to lose those little people who had unique personalities and were loved and cared for by someone.

The book I recently read about President Garfield mentions how emotionally distraught he became over the death of his young son. Earlier generations were not immune to the losses, but they may have insulated themselves. I think the somber expressions on the faces in the old photos reinforces our impressions of that distant, unemotional side.

I'm not sure I buy into the conclusions that people are shaped by their cultures to the extent that many have believed. Certain family characteristics are either shaped, squashed, accentuated or brightened by cultures, but I am a firm believer that people are "born that way." When I took psych courses in college, it was fashionable to believe that nurture overcame nature. Personal experience has led me to the conclusion that nurture can influence, but nature wins. Seems that is one of the fundamental differences between political liberals and conservatives and a central theme for those who believe that everyone can be rehabilitated.

Science and observation can explain why the shape and size of the ears are passed down by genetics, but how about personalities, criminal behavior and a sense of humor?  Or the sound of a laugh! The epicanthal fold is a "family" characteristic among most Asians. An average IQ that is one standard deviation (or more) higher that the average of the general population is a characteristic of Jews. Where does the "nature" end?

What are we going to do with the pictures? I hope we find a good place for them as they remind me of the people we were, the people we knew, the experiences we had. Someone said that when an old man dies, it is like burning down a library. The pictures go with him, but we will keep a few for a while.


  1. Bob - As you might expect, I have the perfect answer about what to do with those pictures. Buy a scanning device made especially for the purpose and scan them into your computer. Then, so that they don't get "lost" again on your hard drive, you buy one of those electronic displays, load as many photos as you can into it and set it on random display. What do you think?

    I know you probably already have a printer/scanner that you could use, and maybe it is adequate. But you can do some investigating and see if a specific photo scanner has advantages. I know my sister Rosemary decided to buy a specific photo scanner, but I never asked her why.

    I really appreciate your comments about my recent blog posts. It has been fun resurrecting those memories and writing them down (I almost said "on paper.")

    The trouble with deciding important questions like nature/nurture on the basis of your personal experience is that, as you know, we go through life seeing what we want to see.

  2. Experience is intensely personal, but the advice of "experts," like the doctors who took care of Garfield, can be dead wrong.

    Your advice about scanning the pictures is so right. Now, I have to find the energy to do it. I will investigate the "photo-scanner" versus regular scanner question, and if you discover anything, let me know. As far as backup, I have my hard drive and files backed up to a remote site, Carbonite, that says you can recover. Fortunately, I haven't yet had the need to do so.

    Have you found out similar information about your dad's family? It seems the connection to your mother's family was much more vivid in your young years.