The Kind of Rabbit Hole Only a Nerd Could Love

The trouble with taking a sabbatical from blogging (or anything, really) is this: it’s hard to get back to it.

Making it even harder for me is the fact that I have fallen down a rabbit hole, and it looks like this:

Yup, it’s a rabbit hole, the kind only a nerd could fall into, and I’m in it hard.

That’s my office, and covering my makeshift desk are hundreds of photos, plus letters, newspaper clippings, funeral programs, and miscellaneous other papers that I’ve gathered over the past few years. The bulk of it came from my grandma, but bits have come from other family members. All that’s spread out on my desk is perhaps 20% of the total.

I love that my grandma saved so much, that I have this abundance of memorabilia to sift through and enjoy. She made notes on many of the photos so I know who is who* and, often, the year and even the location. What she didn’t do is organize the pictures by any system that I can understand. One album contains photos of my grandma’s mother’s funeral in 1961, followed by some pictures of my grandpa, aged about 3 (so sometime in the mid-1920s), admiring his family’s new Ford. Many of the pictures aren’t in albums at all.

Hence, the pictures spread all over the desk as I try to put them together in groups. Jones family here, divided by generation, Derry family over there, Holmes family in this basket, Sutton family in that one. For some categories, there are hundreds of pictures, and for some, just one or two faded snapshots. Sadly, there are also a great many whose stories I don’t know, and that my grandma doesn’t remember. Unless one of my great-uncles knows the names and places behind those photos, the stories are gone for good.

These are my people. One branch of my family’s history, here in this room. The papers and photos in all these albums and boxes tell a story. My story.

Some of the things I’ve found are almost too sweet to bear, like this photo of my dad’s mom’s mom, Freda Holmes, when she was 17 years old. Her husband-to-be, Roy Harrold, carried this picture during World War I.

My grandma talks more and more these days of her mother and how she looks forward to seeing her again. This is a bit of a puzzle to all of us since she spoke of her very differently 40 years ago. Apparently, she had a habit of locking naughty children in the closet until Roy came home to deliver a whipping.

These days, my grandma recalls a flower that her mother grew in their kitchen during the Christmas season one year, how carefully she tended it so there would be something pretty in the house in spite of the family’s nearly unbearable poverty. She never mentions dark closets or painful whippings unless I ask her specifically to tell me about those things.

These two photos tickle me because it’s proof that teenagers are teenagers and they will goof around, no matter the decade.

I came across this snap of me and my dad with his brand-new officer’s commission in 1973. I love seeing pictures of myself as a kid. My parents always had slides, not regular photographs, so the only “real” pictures of me come from relatives other than my parents. Since the projector broke some 20+ years ago and no one repairs them anymore, it’s been a long time since I saw many pictures of myself as a little girl.

There are lots of pictures that break my heart, too. Like the photo of Freda and the one of my dad and me, there are many that show people who are happy and carefree before something in their world smashed their lives all to hell like so many grapes in a wine maker’s barrel.

Some photos forewarn, like these three school pictures of my dad’s sister Nadine from 8th, 9th, and 10th grades.

I called my dad to ask if Nadine had bad teeth, but no, she was just that miserable, almost all the time. She was a happy little girl, but from the onset of puberty forward, she struggled with near-constant, debilitating depression, culminating in her suicide when she was 26 years old. My mom tells me that Nadine suffered from PMDD, which would explain the marked change around 12-13 years old.

Sad as much of this is, I’m mostly in a dream state built of fascination. Really, what little girl who loved Little House on the Prairie as much as I did wouldn’t be thrilled to search through a stack of photos and find this?

I have no idea who the man in that picture is, but it tickles me to scan a photo of him and share it on the internet, given the fact that he probably had no more than a passing relationship with electricity and running water.

*There is one photo of a dog in a field. At the bottom of the photo, my grandma jotted the word dog. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she thought dogs were endangered and that future generations wouldn’t know what to make of this fluffy, four-legged creature.