The Chest

The Chest.

It sits there on the landing, scarred, dilapidated. The faux black leather peels in places, exposing the particle board underneath. The brass fittings are corroded and leather straps hang broken on the sides.  Across the lid, still visible in fading white paint, is the name F.R. Wheeler.

A chest. It accompanied my grandparents when they sailed for postwar China in 1946.

Now it sits there on the landing upstairs in my house, quiet, menacing.

Which is a ridiculous thing to say about such an object. What’s it going to do? Rise in the night and devour me in my sleep?

No, but its contents could devour big chunks of my life.

It contains all of our family photos.

It’s our story. Photos from the late 1800s to the present. Photos of great-grandparents, my Colorado cowboy-turned-missionary grandfather, my Idaho schoolteacher-turned-missionary grandmother. The Arkansas branch of farmers.

Orphans, missionaries, and churches in my grandparent’s work in China.

Photos of my very young parents starting out evangelizing in the West: California.

Sam’s parents starting out working in the West: Bavaria.

There are pictures of my growing up in northern California, pictures of my husband’s growing up in the former Yugoslavia. Sam’s stint in Tito’s army, our meeting in West Germany, our wedding.

All three of our children’s photos are there. From babyhood. All of them.

The history of our life over the last 37 years lies in that big black box.

What this means, of course, is that, should something threaten our home, like God forbid a fire, we would have to wrestle it downstairs and out the door – a chest with no working handles.

Yeah, right. It would be easier to just summon Captain Incredible.

But there’s more. Like you, I’ve also been archiving photos on my laptop in recent years.

Files and files of them.

The sad thing is that, years ago, I heard two women on Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family radio program introduce something they had just created called scrapbooking. Instead of putting every photo you take into one of those plastic sheeted nightmares, you select only the most interesting/most meaningful of the pictures. You then place them in acid-free photo albums on acid free pages using only acid-free materials to, and this is important, creatively decorate your treasures.


I was instantly enthralled. This was an amazing idea, and I made a serious effort to get started with my then-current cache. I went to scrapbooking parties and created a number of pages.

However, and this is also important, that particular strain of creativity does not come naturally to me. I suffered from acute intimidation and visual exhaustion.

I fell behind.

And all the while I watched in amazement as that simple scrapbooking idea blossomed into a multi-gazillion dollar industry.

Several years ago, I appointed The Chest as photo storage and felt good about getting them all in one place.

I started sorting.

I fell behind.

Several things have now conspired to seriously get my attention about this matter. I mention one of them here: grandchildren. If I fall too far behind with photos of the grandkids, I will never catch up and will someday die sad.

I now have a Plan! The first part of the Plan is to open the chest.                                                                           

The next part of the Plan is to share with you from time to time some of the things I will be thinking about while sorting through images of this thing called family.

No, I don’t want to do it digitally.

I expect to be done with the entire project in about 29 years.

And I’m counting on you veteran scrapbookers out there for encouragement.

Don’t over-expect. I have a history.

Are your photos under control? Are you a scrapbooker? If so, I’d love to hear your story. If not, let’s commiserate.


6 responses to this post.

  1. Thank you for this wonderful post, I love it. I used to call myself an avid scrapbooker. I was blessed to be a full-time stay at home mom for ten years. During this time, scrapbooking was my outlet. My children still love to pull out all of those precious albums, they treasure them. Those are the most organized photos I have. Unfortunately through the years life has become a bit more complicated. I am now a working mom and we are constantly going here and there (sometimes I long for those early years once again). Unfortunately I have not done any scrapbooking in about four years. I have hopes of someday being able to resume it once again. But until then, I have to get better at organizing my digital photos. Because I now have thousands of them to catch up on! Maybe digital scrapbooking would be the way to go!


  2. Yes, that’s the danger – the start/stop thing. Your comment about your children loving to look at the albums is the most inspirational thing about scrapbooking for anyone who has ever done it.


  3. I love you Sister Deb. 🙂 Note: if you label the chest somehow…- Photos: in the case of a fire, the firefighters, will carry it out for you, to safety, away from the fire if they are able, like they did for us. They saved Benjamins very first ultrasound photo I had framed, and boxes of labeled “Photo” boxes in the flaming garage. 🙂


  4. Since you are (unfortunately!) the expert in this, I will do that today. Thanks for the heads up.


  5. Posted by Linda Hopper on July 26, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    Hi Debbie. I love your blog! I don’t scrapbook, but I’ve managed to keep the pictures we’ve taken over the years of our married life (47 yesterday!) in albumns–the plastic nightmare kind. When the grandchildren started coming, I started printing all the pics we took of them when they were at our house–in their own separate albumns. They’re 7, 6, 5, & 2 right now, & I’ve fallen way behind on the 2 year old. 😦 this blog reminds me to catch up! The three older ones LOVE to take their albumns off the shelf & sit down with me & reminesce. It’s a big activity! I know I would never have the patience or time to put all the decorative things on the pages, but its a beautiful idea.


  6. Your comment about how your older grandchildren love to go through the albums you’ve created is exactly what is, shall we say, goading me to get going on this. They become among the most important things we eventually leave behind. Thank you for your thoughts!


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