The Old Photos in My Basement


I am in the midst of cleaning out my basement. I am a writer and can find words to express myself most of the time, but this task silences me. There are toys from my children, myself, my sister. There are clothes and pictures and art projects from my children, my husband, and myself. There are photos, negatives, slides, and family movies. I feel overwhelmed by the sheer beast of “things.” They overrun the basement and hem in its already low ceilings.

But I have begun to donate, to give away, to organize these many things. My mother died last summer. She had dementia for over thirteen years and I saved many items thinking she might have a distant memory of them, or that some might give her solace. I had no trouble donating her clothes, but her rosaries and prayer books I procrastinate. And especially her photos. She was our family photographer and took probably thousands of photos and slides.

I went to grief counseling offered by her hospice last fall. I had a wonderful therapist who encouraged me to journal. I am a writer. Of course I should journal. But I do not. I refuse. Why? I felt relief and grief when my mother went on hospice as she had been sick for so long. Is it not a blessing for her that she no longer suffers? I feel the words have run out. But the photos tell a different story. I see my mom in her girlhood, as a young teacher, then how I remember her when I was her little girl. I see her age to my age now, then my parents during their happy retirement, then her dementia creeping in silently, blithely. Her quiet, almost aloof nature sprung open to dementia’s honesty. She is the same person, with the same twinkle in her eye with no guile, just happiness. To see all of this cuts me a little raw. I need help to organize not only the sheer volume, but to face the grief. To acknowledge that I chose not words, but pictures to release her.

Candid of Clara Tomaz while she is sorting old slides to be edited into the movie on my mother.

So I sought help. Personal movie maker Clara Tomaz of Make Your Movie, inc. realizes this need and helps me put these pictures and slides in boxes by decade. When we are done with that, she will be able to digitally save them on DVDs and make a creative movie that will tell our family history and my mother’s life! That is incentive to finish this! She comes to my messy basement two hours each week and plods with me through my albums, envelopes, and mostly boxes with loose photos to organize them. I have slides and home movies, too. We have not tackled those yet. I have over 100 years of family photos, from my mom and dad’s sides of the family plus my own family with small children. I know that Clara’s recommendation to preserve the photos and slides digitally is the right one. It will not only clear up space in the basement, but keep safe these precious mementos.

I have absolute wonder for what Clara does. She has made what seemed like an overwhelming, monumental chore into an organized, even enjoyable journey.

We have yet to tackle the Super 8 and 8 millimeter films. I have some bell bottoms somewhere to celebrate that find. No, wait, I don’t. They were donated. Ah, progress.

My mom would be proud. Clara and Make Your Movie, inc. are making sure my kids will get more than a glimpse of my mom as I remember her. She will be in her own movie of our family history. It’s a gift for my kids and myself.



Post by Alice Pappas.

Alice Pappas is a writer and owner of Papers by Pappas, LLC; she works and lives in Skokie, IL, with her husband and two children.


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