My uncle and my mom died within 18 months of each other. Both times, I inherited thousands.
Not dollars — family photos. Pictures were stuffed into shoeboxes, manila envelopes and supermarket plastic bags — mostly unmarked and in no order whatsoever. Overwhelmed, I stashed them in the basement and tried not to think about them.
Then along came COVID-19 and months of lockdown. I decided if I was ever going to sort through the boxes, this was the time. Laying out the photos on my dining room table was like curating a museum exhibit of 20th-century photography. They began with studio portraits of my grandparents in rich sepia tones and progressed to blurry black-and-white images taken with my father’s Brownie box camera. Color and a bit more quality arrived in the photos taken after he bought a Kodak Instamatic flashcube camera.
As I started sorting, I realized that my sister and I were now the family’s historians. It was our responsibility to make sure others knew who all the people in these photos — their ancestors — were. That’s when I started Throwback Thursday. Every Thursday, I selected five of these old prints and snapped a photo of each on my iPhone. I wrote a bit about each one: who was in it, how they were related, what they were like. Then I texted them to my nieces and nephews and their children. (I didn’t email them. Gen Zers detest email.)
When I sent an Army photo of my father, I relayed that during World War II, he was stationed on Governors Island in New York. One night he went AWOL to visit a woman he had just met. The MPs caught him, and he received 30 days of confinement to the post. He eventually married that woman — my mom.
When I sent a shot of my Uncle Danny, I wrote about the time he invited his parish priest over for lobster dinner. It was a hot day, Danny had one too many, and when dinnertime arrived, my tipsy uncle stumbled and sent a lobster flying across the table and onto the floor. (Thirty years later, my aunt still had not fully forgiven him.)
All the while during this fun project, I was painlessly digitizing the best photos.