Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Weight of a 4 X 6 Glossy

Back in the day, the cost of travel was never quite complete until you got home, took your vacation photos to the drugstore and waited to see if they turned out as well as your memory of the actual events. When it came time for pickup, the disappointments piled up. Eyes closed, blurry, too light, too dark, finger on the lens, pigeon flew across at the worse possible time - the photo disasters were ready to be revealed, in living color and in duplicate. Or sometimes even panorama.

I'd say we took the average amount of photos, and some turned out really well. Definitely photo album worthy if not frame worthy. For the first few years of our marriage, I tried to keep up with the albums. I'd sometimes have a couple of years of photos piling up, but then one hot summer day I'd crank up the AC and get the pictures in albums, all in perfect chronological order. No labels or dates, because just getting them in albums was reason to celebrate. It always felt so good, I'm amazed I never took a picture of those backed-hunched-over, legs-cramping, forgot-to-eat-all-day photo album filling sessions.

Then I stopped and the photos really started piling up. I would always put an album together after an International Convention in Europe, but the everyday photos stayed in their packages. I would separate the negatives and store them at my Mom's house, in case we ever had a fire and all our photos burned up and we decided to spend the money to reprint every last blurry one to once again not put in albums.

Then I discovered photo boxes! You know, those cute lightweight boxes that are great for stuffing in huge amounts of duplicate blurry pictures of pigeons with their eyes closed. It was a procrastinator's dream! I bought lots of them. I labeled the little tab in front PHOTOS or MEMORIES and stacked them up on shelves. And moved them from house to house. They were great boxes, truly adorable and did I mention stackable?

After getting our house in order in so many other areas, I was feeling the need to attack the photos. I'd have to be in the right mood. Not too sentimental, but not too brutal that I would throw out all the fat pictures lest I forget. Here was my process. 

Find a nice open space to see what I was up against.
Futon to the rescue!

Open the scary end of my closet.
Open it wide.

Take out every album, every box and every container with photos in them.

Give my shoes a place to look cute.

Start by emptying each photo album.
Toss all the "Why did we ever save this one?" photos.
Don't let those blurry, squinting pigeons load on the guilt.
Toss them and don't look back.

Realize that keeping the negatives was really dumb.
Throw them out.

Take the empty albums to Goodwill.
17 pounds of photos lighter, not including the albums.

Pile is smaller.
More work to do, but it's a huge dent.

Stop sorting when I come across a very special photo.
You know, one of the precious ones.
This one photo, this brief encounter in Germany in 1998 was a life changer. We had stayed behind at the International Convention in Nuremberg to sing with the Hungarians. We were some of the last to leave the stadium. Who do we pass by but this adorable Polish family. We took their photo and exchanged addresses.

We wrote them and sent them our duplicates. They wrote back and did the same. Then a few more letters. Then a few nights spent with them on our next trip to Germany. They came to visit us in California for two weeks. More trips here with just the girls. More trips to see them in Germany, a trip together to their home country of Poland. Our friends in Tahoe met them, fell in love with them just as we did. A trip out to New York when their daughter married an American. We met more of their friends, who then met our friends from Tahoe. They introduced their brother to our Tahoe friend. Another wedding! That is one powerful little photo. 

Now the decision comes - what to do with all these loose photos? Now that we know how many we have, the sheer size of these loose photos, it's easier to be a little more ruthless each time through. I have an idea to make a few very select albums with the best of the best of the best. By category, not by chronology. I'm tossing some of the possible categories around.

  • International Conventions
  • The People We Love 
  • Dog Photos, Volumes I and II
  • Camping With Candace
  • When We Were Young
  • When We Were Fat
  • When We Thought We Had Lost Weight But Were Still Fat
  • Blurry Pictures With Our Eyes Closed Because We Were Still Young But Not Yet Fat
  • Dog Photos, Volume III

That ought to do it!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Tomatoes, by George

Somewhere in my Mom's big suitcase of photos, there's a picture of me sitting in this wheelbarrow, being pushed by my Dad. Or maybe the image is just in my head, but it's so clear it might as well be a photo. When my Mom moved back East, we got the wheelbarrow of my childhood, and we still use it in the yard. I'm sure it's been through a few tires in its day, but structurally, it's as good as new. Counting back to when my parents bought their first house, if my Dad bought the wheelbarrow soon after, that piece of equipment is about 60 years old. That's a lot of dirt hauling. 

My Dad wasn't a gardener when he moved into their house in Arden Park, but he soon became one. My memories of that backyard are fuzzy, because we moved away when I was six. The way back of the yard is where my Dad's garden was. The neighborhood men all chipped in and bought a rototiller and would share it between them. I just vaguely remember being afraid of the rototiller and that the crows would steal all the cherries from the tree before we got to them. 

The house we moved to was in Carmichael. The neighbors on each side opted for no fences, so we had a wide open view of the garden of all gardens, Mr. Gull's garden. He grew everything you can think of, the crows didn't steal his cherries, everything as neat as a pin, he even had a huge boysenberry patch along his back fence. It was a marvel. It was perfect. 

My Dad's garden was not too shabby either, with raised beds and all the usual Sacramento vegetable crops, minus the berry bushes. But every gardener knows that when it comes down to it, all that really matters are the tomatoes. If your tomatoes aren't the best on the block, you might as well just go inside and let those crows steal all the cherries, and while they're at it the boysenberries too.

My Dad's tomatoes were better than Mr. Gull's. That's right, Mr. City Boy had Mr. Gentleman Farmer beat in the tomato department. How do we know this? Did we sneak into the unfenced yard and do a blind taste test? No, we had something better - the word of the Avon Lady. Yes, the Avon Lady let it be known to all her customers that my Dad's tomatoes were the best on the block, in fact they were the best on her whole route. That was worth a bucket of cherries right there, and really who needs dumb old perfect rows of everything when you've got the best tomatoes in probably all of Sacramento?

Sadly, I had no interest in my Dad's garden. I just didn't get the fascination, why he would want to be out there on hot summer nights, going back to the old neighborhood to borrow the rototiller, hauling in cow manure from his friend Mr. Butts (I kid you not) and trying to choose between which tomato varieties to plant that year. The names of those tomatoes did stick with me, and they are the old standbys. Early Girl. Big Boy. Better Boy. Ace. There were no striped or yellow or purple heirlooms in our garden. No, my Dad stuck with the basics, why confuse the Avon Lady. By now those varieties he planted are heirlooms, they've been around so long.

My Dad's been gone for 25 years now, and each year that has passed has seen my love of gardening grow. I wish he had kept a garden journal, I would love to know what he fed his tomatoes, when he planted them, how often he watered. Did he have a drip system? Did they even have drip systems then? What was his secret? 

I wish he could see how his love of gardening did develop in me after all. I don't grow the best tomatoes on the block, far from it. But I do find myself drawn to those same varieties of tomatoes he planted. He spent so much time out there, after work, on the weekends, and it seems the only ones in the family that really understood the joy of gardening were the dogs. They were his faithful companions out back, with Holly the pack leader and Ralph herding the chickens as they ate the slugs. I get it now, and if I could just have one more day with him, it would be in his garden. 

The new addition to our garden plot.
We hauled these old deck pilings from the back of the yard with the old wheelbarrow.
Still rolling along after all these years.

Ready for planting.

Got to have the essentials.
Shovel, trowel and caffeine.
And after, a beer in honor of my Dad.

The canine could look a bit more interested, but she is loyal and keeps me company.

T is for tomatoes!

Mr. Gull might not be too impressed, but I bet my Dad would be proud.