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I bought another  frame the other day at the junk store, a nice 16 x 20 made with dense, dark wood and sporting scratch-free, clear glass. All the joints were solid. It was one of the nicer used frames I’ve acquired this way.  It cost me all of four bucks.

Like most of the second-hand frames I buy, this one came complete with artwork. Most of these frames have hung in someone’s home or office at one time and they come with  the standard decorative art; prints of vases full of flowers, little girls on swings, duckies and chickies and piggies, or maybe a sailboat on a calm ocean. A really nice set of three that I bought for $5 each had pictures of horses, all mounted and matted and framed in a most professional manner. The pictures had originally come from a 1991 freebie calendar from an insurance agency in Versailles. The Versailles in Kentucky, not France.

Ordinarily, I have no trouble tossing all this stuff in the trash. It’s anonymous and vapid and sometimes really, really bad. But this frame I had bought contained a collage mat with a bunch of family photos, the name Grismer proudly displayed in the center  printed in white letters in a sea of red (printed, as it turns out, by a cheap inkjet printer on a sheet of copy paper).  These were normal people doing normal things, and someone had clearly put a lot of effort and thought into it, maybe preparing it as a gift to a loved one. There were old people and young people and middle-aged people, in numerous combination from pairs to a group of 7. Best I can tell, most of the shots came from a single family gathering at one of those cheap buffet restaurants that old people and fat people flock to.

Only one photo was  of an individual, a dude around 50 or so with a dark mustache and regal pose, elbows on the table, hands clasped in front. But for the really ugly restaurant wallpaper and the framed chicken painting behind his head, it was actually a pretty good portrait.  I imagine that it was the photographer’s father because of the steady gaze and reassuring expression.  I imagine the photographer is his daughter, and that she is the collage maker. I don’t know why. I can’t see a father looking at  a son that way, but maybe that has more to do with my relationship with my own father than anything else. Anyway, it’s all conjecture. I don’t know these people except by their images.

This family collage  was probably given with pride. I’m sure we can all envision one just like it without much effort at all. We either had one ourselves or know someone who did. Sorority sisters or your softball team, or maybe the treasured memories of a lifetime with someone. The people who own these things have some attachment to them, just as the Grismers, or at least one of them,  probably had some attachment to this one. I must be going all philosophical or something, because it disturbed me that I would be pitching these family memories into my garbage can with the coffee grounds and banana peels and empty Wal-Mart bags and other assorted refuse. They’d be in a landfill in less than a week. I wonder if they might have deserved a better fate than that.

These were not good photos by any stretch of the imagination, nor were the people in them  strikingly attractive or famous in any way. There are billions of these shots in shoe boxes, photo albums,  attics, and trash heaps across the globe.  A staggering number of them will probably never again be looked upon by human eyes. For good reason.

But these particular photographs meant enough to someone to justify the effort devoted to making that collage, and it probably hung on the recipient’s wall, in a kitchen or a bedroom or maybe a hall. In someone’s home, not just in a house or an office or above a worn-out bed at a Motel 6 like the vases of flowers or duckies and chickies and piggies that I’m accustomed to. These photos were a part of someone’s life, maybe right to the end.

By now, they’re in the dump over east of Irvine. The people in them are somewhere else, maybe  only in a memory.


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