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Misplaced Souls

Amerimex Auto (Se Habla Espanol) had a strict rule against drugs or alcohol on the premises. It was probably a sound enough policy because it helped increase productivity two or three percent. Cocaine addiction was so prevalent on the lot that it was viewed by most of the staff as an occupational hazard. With cocaine, of course, came the sister addictions; alcohol, because coke addicts generally had to drink themselves stupid to get to sleep; codeine, because people who drink themselves stupid to get to sleep generally wake up with massive hangovers; and amyl nitrate to clear away the codeine haze and jump start the party after work. ("After work" was a flexible concept at the used car lot. We would often stay open very late if we had a lot of customers or none at all. On the other hand, if we sold a Night of the Living Dead special with about five active miles left in it for a high price, we would close the lot and run away as soon as the car was physically out of sight, even if it was only noon.)But the main reason that there was a strict rule against drug use on the premises had nothing to do with productivity or even fear of the cops. It was that the owner was a reformed addict himself in a 12 Step Program. And if he couldn't abuse drugs and alcohol he was damned is he was going to let anyone else do it on company time.These addicts were hard, unsentimental men constantly feeding or at least stroking the giant monkeys they carried. But despite all of this there was a strange little spot of sentimentality buried in our double-wide trailer that seemed very out of place.Walk into the front door of the double-wide trailer that served as the corporate headquarters and you entered a large room with a big desk and several mismatched armchairs. This room was where we entertained the customers and it was called "The Butcher Shop". Take a left on the way to the former bedroom of the trailer (which was now my office as "credit manager" or "pencil man") and you passed two smaller rooms across the hall from each other. On the right was the bathroom, which actually worked and even included a stand up shower littered with cigarette butts. On the left was the store room where we kept the boxes of St. Christopher statues we put on the dashboards of every car to imply that their last owner had been a white suburban family, and boxes full of the large NO WARRANTY - AS IS signs that the State required us to put on one of the rear passenger windows. But we also had boxes of something else.

The boxes (and maybe there were about half a dozen going back years) contained photographs we took out of repossessed vehicles. We used to repo about 15 cars every week or two. The repo men would go through them with a fine tooth comb looking for drugs, money, guns, or anything else of value. But the poor people who bought our cars often kept all of their most personal stuff there. It was all junk to us and we would toss it, but for some reason we always kept the photographs. The most poignant of these were pictures of the dead.There were what I would call death memorials, which consisted of a brochure with a photograph on it that had been passed out at a wake. The people in these photos generally seemed to be in their late thirties to early fifties. Life is hard on the poor. Once I got a fix on a face, I could go through the box and reconstruct the life. The deceased was beloved Aunt Sally. Here was Sally at her wedding. Here was Sally with a baby, and then another. Flipping through the snapshots, I would see the babies grow up and Aunt Sally age until she "was suddenly taken from us." I could understand why the owners of these photos didn't come back for them. They owed us money. But what I couldn't understand is why the jaded junkies at the lot didn't just pitch them along with everything else. It wasn't that these photos were filed in any way. They were always just tossed in a box.The other kind of photo was the saddest of all and these were the photos of actual dead people. The dead people were always young men in their twenties. These were morgue photos - intake photos perhaps with a serial number on the chest of the corpse who still had that drowsy half opened eyed look on his face. Aside from these men being so young, they always seemed well groomed and had on their best suits. The photo would say that the young man had gotten dressed up to go out, and at the party that night had either been shot to death or had overdosed. The morbid curiosity that I had in reconstructing the lives of people like Aunt Sally left me with these boys. They were practically still children and I couldn't bear to find their younger faces awake in the dusty boxes, misplaced souls like everyone else about the place.

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Another lovely essay, u.Pictures are the most important possessions people have. The Cuban refugees I knew in the sixties left Cuba with one suitcase each. They left everything else behind, but they brought their photograph albums. Pictures of the grandparents' houses. Kids in their elaborate first communion outfits. Etc.When there's a disaster --tornado, fire, ets., and people are interviewed on t.v., they always regret the loss of the pictures.One of the great things about the Internet is the ability to post pictures. I've put several pictures on ancestry.com that I never thought anyone else would be interested in, but several people have copied them to their own family trees. Even if my house burns down, those pictures will survive.

I have a picture of my grandmother (b. 1897) as a little girl; where she is holding the only doll she ever owned. My grandmother had to drop out of school in 6th grade to do piece work in a factory. The picture makes me very happy to know that she had a childhood, but very sad when I think of how short it was.

Tantalizing beginning. So many possible follow-ups to this!But Gerelyn's comment is the one that brought something back to my mind. When theres a disaster tornado, fire, ets., and people are interviewed on t.v., they always regret the loss of the pictures.I had a friend whose house got destroyed by a tornado. She was working on a PhD in history. In those pre-computer days, she kept index cards that carefully kept track of everything she read. When she got home that day - actually, there was no home left to go to - her index cards were gone. She combed the neighborhood to try to rescue a few, but they were hopelessly scattered all over the tornado tracks. Two years of work gone with the wind, she told me! (She regretted those index cards more than pictures.)

Yes, sorry for the generalizations. There must be many people who value the fruits of their labor over ephemera. Touching that the hard characters in unagaidon's story kept the pictures. Just in case.

Gerelyn --The experience of the aftermath of Katrina tells me too that people most miss their snapshots and other photos of loved ones.This time of year (hurricanes) I usually remind everyone to gather their special photos or at least check out where they are so you can grab them if you need to evacuate. And remember NYC, your area hasn't been hit by a monster hurricane in a couple of generations, and you're long overdue for one. Arrange for your evacuation destination NOW. And establish an out-of-state crisis phone number -- somebody who will relay news of the members of your family and others of note. Re-order bank checks if you're low on them. You might be gone for months and moving around. Those with cars, fill them up soon as there is a hint there might be a storm. Trust me.u -- another fine one.

My most moving encounter on this point was going to a photo store with multiple family photos after the death of an aunt. I asked for copies and some adjustments to give to relatives of my generation, noting in passing they were the sort of photos most families have: poorly composed with low quality that I hoped they could improve upon.The woman behind the counter corrected me quickly. Not like photos all families have, unfortunately. She was a survivor of Auschwitz, with a tattoo on her arm, who had been incarcerated in her early teens. The only photos of relatives killed in the Holocaust were a few that had been sent to cousins in Canada before the war.Her comment on Catholics was that those she encountered had imbibed hatred of Jews with their mothers' milk. She told me she had agreed to light a candle at an interfaith service for remembrance of the Holocaust. I offered to go with my husband. Both of us were disconcerted that at this remembrance there was not one Roman collar in evidence, much less any pectoral cross. Lots of clergy from other denominations, though.I wish the story were otherwise. Bishops and priests in attendance, same for the laity. Visibility counts.

Were there any prayer cards in addition to the photos, I wonder?Last year I got a second-hand prayer book. Used books often contain small remnants of the lives of their previous owner. That one had a prayer card for someone who had died in he 1970s. I was reluctant to throw it away, so I kept it in the book; like you with Aunt Sally, I spent some time trying to imagine his life; and in fact, when I encounter the card, sometimes I say a short random prayer for him. Weird!

I'm the keeper of the family photos and now have my grnadmother's photo album whih is full of pictures of people I don't know anuthing about ... strange and sad that someone cared enough to take the photos and save them but that they now exist in a kind of limbo without even names. I've been putting some of the photos from my grandmother's and mom's photo albums on my blog and had one post with photos of my past pets :) Maybe with cyberspace, there wll be a kind of immortality to those photographed.

Perhaps the most telling photos is something the world seems helpless against. Like the lost children in the Sudan. The photos of these suffering lost boys get attention occasionally when a newspaper or an advocate reports them. They pale in contrast to the attention given same sex marriage, contraception and abortion. There are photos of these and we see them often. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/01/world/africa/from-sudan-a-new-wave-of-... Sudan does attract investors more than saviors. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-B2OMtsr7ck

These comments have certainly touched a nerve for me. Many years ago my parents' basement was flooded with four feet of water while they were away on vacation. Gone were not only my letters from Girl Scout camp but all the really old family photos, mostly of people I never knew but whom I still see in my mind's eye: the sturdy, dark-skinned Italian immigrants from whom I spring. There is a particular group photo on a beach. Everyone is tanned and barefoot, arms linked and leaning toward the camera, their dark hair blowing in the breeze, my grandmother in a two-piece bathing suit down to her knees. I also remember the stiff wedding photos of these hopeful and hard-working dreamers. Would that I could find a way to pass these precious images on to children and grandchildren.

Wow. Thanks. You've lead an interesting life.

"strange and sad that someone cared enough to take the photos and save them but that they now exist in a kind of limbo without even names".I just found a box of framed photos-of my own, my life pre-marriage, pre-children. They bring up a lot of forgotten memories, but the people in them aren't part of my family's lives, just mine. I was thinking about how photos make the transition from your wall, to a box and eventually you use the picture frames for something else. Your grandchildren someday find the box of photos and wonder who the people are.

My father was an amateur photographer. He gave a lot of snaps of the many children next door to them after they had grown. They loved them. Group pictures in particular.I once spent a particularly nice afternoon with an aunt and a cousin going through all of our photos and putting names on back of them. Have a family photo party. You'll probably hear some stories you hadn't heard before. There are some stories that just don't get repeated to children. Stories you hear from one side of the family about the other side can be real fun. So have a picture party and take notes for the next generation:-)

Like Gerelyn, I am an obsessive denizen of Ancestry.com (thank you, Mormons!). Since posting my family trees in all of their twists and turns, people who have linked to it have also sent me the most amazing array of pictures of relatives - familiar and recently discovered - that I never would have known about without their help. Discovering illegitimate births and subsequent unknown family branches has been a marvelous experience.All of these photos as well as many that I have uploaded are preserved for posterity somewhere in the bomb-proof bowels of Utah's Wasatch Mountains where they will reside way beyond the Second Coming of the Angel Moroni. Curious baptismal theology has resulted in a fantastic family history resource for the rest of us. If they want to baptize me and mine into their church, the more the merrier, sez I.

Agree, Jim. They're welcome to baptize me and all my ancestors. In fact, in reciprocation, I hereby baptize all of THEM. Find a Grave is great, too. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgiAn elusive relative who died in childhood turned up the other day on Find a Grave. There was a link to the graveyard where she was buried in 1880, and on that page there was a picture of her tombstone.

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