Rose Osborne, 67, was a registered nurse for 45 years before retiring to become a personal historian, owner and creator of Write My Journey, a life story writing service that turns memories into a beautiful hardcover book.
The elephant in the room with every single family I visit to discuss family stories is always the overstuffed box of photos shoved under the bed in the backroom. When I ask “Have you any photos to go with this story?” the answer is always the same. “Oh probably – in the box under the bed – but I can’t get it out, it’s too much. There’s torn albums and photos so old, just everything in that box”.
“What a tragedy,” my inner voice screams out, “what morsels of memories and treasures are you missing out on.”
“I can get it sorted for you if you like,” my calmed voice pleads with the client. “It won’t cost that much and it will be digital; we can organise them into specific albums, add stories, and it will become a family heirloom for all to share.”
“Perhaps later”, is always the reply – but when is ‘later’ when the box has already been there a lifetime and just continues to expand on the concept of ‘overstuffed.’ The skip bin on moving out day is the most likely destination for unwanted overstuffed boxes.
I understand the reluctance to embark on doing the job yourself, after all, it took me three years to organise my lifetime photos. These days, however, there are professional services that make it a breeze and the opportunity to unpack all those memories with a life story professional, and document stories that will be forgotten is priceless.
When it was time to pack my mother up for the big move into the Aged Care Services, the overstuffed box of photos was recovered from under the bed. Photos that had never been shared, never been discussed and had not seen daylight for decades were exposed.
My mother was a storyteller and had told many stories in her long life so we were amazed when she came out with this response to a mystery dark and old photo. We could put names to the people but not the context.
“Where was this taken Mum?”
“Oh, that was when we lived in St. Mary’s on the farm?”
“You lived in St. Mary’s on a farm?” We had never heard this one before.
“Oh yes, it was when I was about five. Mum’s brothers just put us all on a truck and took us to the vegetable farm. They were farmers, you know.”
“Yes, I knew that, but you ALL went to St. Mary’s to live on a vegetable farm.”
“Yes, and we lived in a beautiful big farm house. I can see it with its wrap-around verandah. There were about 12 of us you know; Grandma, her boyfriend, her children and Mum and us.”
“Where was Great Grandfather?” I quickly asked as I knew he was a favourite of Mum’s.
“Oh, he was there.”
The stories flowed, things we had never heard before and much more, including how they came back to the country town where they started from and remained all their lives.
“A man came with a truck and made us all get in the back and sit on top of our belongings which were piled high. He took us back home – over 200 miles over the mountains. He had a gun in his pocket, you know.”
The window of information was gone as quickly as it had begun. The opportunity to gain insight into my ancestors’ life journey was no more. Luckily the story came in time to make it into the family tribute album along with the photo so all generations could reflect on many more questions about the strange and secretive relocation to an outer Sydney suburb of shrubbery and market gardens. The biggest question of all about the man with the gun looms heavily and we shall never know the full explanation.
Photos and stories are so precious and deserve a place on the coffee tables and bookshelves of all the family members. It is a journey you will never regret and if it is lost, it can’t be regained.
If you do one thing today, make it something that counts. Go into that room with the overstuffed box of photos, pull them out and don’t put them back until they digitalised, explained and gracing your home with their magic and fullness of lives lived – your family’s life journey. You may even want to find a better storage system for those precious photos in case a future descendant wants to do more with them.
OFFER: If you would like Write My Journey to organise your photos and family stories, contact us for a FREE 15-minute review on your life story. Rose Osborne also does guest speaking to small groups on Writing your Life. If you want more information, read your way through my website, www.writemyjourney.com.