When the thirty three gallon garbage can was filled to overflowing, I knew it was time to quit, even though there was another twenty minutes before our agreed upon quitting time of four p.m.
There was no where else to put the detritus of our fevered pitch of sorting and straightening of one hundred and thirty years of church memorabilia. We had been so busy in the months leading up to the anniversary of our church’s founding, that we had thrown aside extra materials, unused photos, pieces of the past that we didn’t quite know how to fit into the story we were writing.
“We’ll take care of it after the anniversary, when the report is done,” we kept telling ourselves, throwing another stack on an already teetering pile. We could no longer see the counter on which we had begun our research. And the counter ran the whole width of the back of the room. About twenty feet of counter. Piled high with books, photos, file folders, papers, more photos, more photos…
The anniversary was in March. We took the month of April off to rest, recoup, figure out what we wanted to do next. The history detectives we call ourselves. A group of old ladies. Who have lots of energy. And smarts. I love these women, of whom I am the youngest. I keep pointing that out to everyone who will listen. Everyone who does, listen that is, rolls their eyes.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” is the general response. I’m slightly insulted. But only slightly, because, you see, I’m heading towards a major birthday. One of those with a zero. The years, the decades, are rolling on and there is no outrunning them. Or that counter with the pile of historical facts and figures.
Each Monday, from one to four, we meet. We sort. We throw out. We laugh at what we uncover. Lately we’ve been laughing about how the previous archivist kept the files. It’s a mishmash, poorly preserved. Some of it can be undone, but much of it we toss out because, fortunately, there are duplicates which we can better salvage and preserve. We know not to use tape, staples, glue, or paper clips. We do use archival quality page protectors and acid free tissue paper. I must research storage systems for very large photos and poster size materials.
For today, though, we cleared a swath on the counter. I threw away more than we kept. Photos have been sorted into a chronology into which more photos will go the next time we meet, there in the library that is now called the resource center. One hundred and thirty years. More than twice my lifetime.