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My View: Family photos keep close those who have left

By Peter Simon

"Ldor vador," a widely used Hebrew phrase, means "from generation to generation."

It reminds us to treasure family and find ways to keep alive the memories of those no longer with us. We are responsible, in ways large and small, for honoring the past, being thankful for the present and embracing the future.

That's why I recently spent hours each day making albums out of boxes and boxes of family photos that were long neglected. It was exacting and emotional, but above all, deeply rewarding.

The albums paint a very sweet and devoted portrait of my now-deceased Mom and Dad, the most loving and supportive grandparents ever. The books also memorialize David, my joyful, kind and caring younger brother; Murray, a first cousin who taught art and raised exotic animals; and cousin Ira, who was bright, opinionated and self-deprecating well into his 90s.

But the central character in this story is my late wife, Barbara, who had an unusual gift for bringing people together and making our family the best it could be.

She meticulously put together photo albums of our two daughters' early years, so the remaining challenge for me was to tell through pictures the family story from that point on.

I found great photos of vacations in California, Iceland and Israel.

"The Sound of Music" was Barbara's favorite movie, so she was thrilled – even on a dark, rainy day – to take a bus tour in Salzburg, Austria, of sites from the movie.

Life seemed more innocent then. We drove from town to town throughout Europe, finding restaurants and hotel rooms as we went. We discovered a circus under a tent and an ice cave in Switzerland. People in Ireland – eager to tell us about their relatives in Boston or Chicago – invited us to dinner. My only nasty memories are getting seasick on a boat to a Greek island and struggling to navigate steep, winding Alpine roads with a stick shift.

Most precious are the album photos of our four grandchildren.

In Denver, Sabine, who is 4, looks after Sidney, her little brother, as if she can protect him from all evil. Down the road in Williamsville, Nora and Lincoln, ages 6 and 5, are always best buddies, even when they tussle occasionally.

Until a few weeks ago, I felt unsettled every time I went to the basement and saw boxes filled with photos begging to be arranged and organized. Soon I was hooked. I came home one day and spent several hours on the albums even before I took off my hat and coat. Encouragement and insightful suggestions from Elaine, my partner, and Kim, my late brother's wife, kept me on track.

The photo albums contain not a hint of the struggles our family faced after Barbara was diagnosed with systemic breast cancer. Instead, her constant smile, proud and youthful appearance and enormous strength sustained us. Quietly, she devoted her life to being here long enough to hold a grandchild. Nora's arrival in July of 2011 was her reward.

That cycle of birth and death, of growing up and growing old, is evident throughout the albums.

If the photos finally rescued from the basement could talk – and they do – they would urge us to stay strong, support each other and transform challenge and misfortune into strength. Values so many of us share, with a Hebrew name.

L'dor vador. That's what our new family albums are all about.

Peter Simon finds that old family photos have a voice.

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