Saturday, February 14, 2009

Every picture tells a story:

After our father's death, my sister and I faced the task of sorting through his belongings – as best we could. During his last few years, Daddy's packrat tendencies became a full-blown compulsion, and there was literally a single path coursing through knee-high (or higher) stacks of . . . stuff . . . in his house.

The kitchen countertop was piled about a foot high with years' worth of mail and other papers that you could tell were important to him, somehow. While sorting through this mess, I came across a black-and-white photo of an animal skeleton partially embedded in dirt. There was no writing on the back, but since the photo was in amongst some correspondence and cards from family in Norway, I guessed that perhaps some interesting paleontological find had been unearthed in the homeland, and sat the photo aside to ask my uncle about it.

I was quite off base with my guess. The true story was that one of my father's beloved cats had gone missing – for quite some time. Eventually the poor thing was discovered, in skeletal form, in the basement – and my dad took its picture, as a memento. Thus a hard-learned lesson about the dangers of romanticizing the unknown.

(In case you're wondering how a dead cat could go undetected for a lengthy period of time, my father's sense of smell was ruined during the course of too many youthful chemistry experiments.)

The picture below tells a different story. That's my father on the far right, with his 3 brothers and my grandmother. It was taken on the family farm in Trondheim, Norway, probably just before my father left for America, circa 1953.


  1. Very sorry about your dad.

    A friend's mum did the same kind of 'saving' stuff as it sounds like your dad did - I wonder is it a response to earlier deprivation or is a symptom of a degree of OCD?

  2. What a treasure that photo is.

    Packratting seems to be common among people who lived through the Great Depression. My dad saved things, too, and it was clear to me that the resulting chaos was a source of great frustration to him, since he could never find anything.

  3. Intell, this is a wonderful post...not that all of yours aren't, mind you. I truly love reading this story and seeing these pictures of your family.

    Maybe it was just the particular moment of the photo, or that particular day, but your father looks a bit impish. A person who enjoyed a joke, with or without chemical substance.

  4. Thanks Lou . . . I guess I should edit the piece to say that my dad died some time ago, but I was just recently reminded of the story of finding the "cat" picture.

    I think my dad's early life experiences helped trigger some OCD-type behaviour in adulthood. My eldest uncle was also a hoarder, but a compulsively organized one.

    The family fled Paris in WWII, scrounging for food in abandoned farmhouses as they made their way to Norway. Incredible stories they've told.

    Maurita - my mother, who was a child during the depression, occasionally has weird food-hoarding behaviours.

    Jaded, thanks. I come from a wonderful, if weird, family. My sister and I inherited dad's penchant for punning. He was quite the imp!

  5. Hoarding runs in my family too and we've always taken the easy option, ascribing it to the genes, rather than considering that anything could possibly be done about it. The pack-rat habits irritate some, but the wise just learn to put up with it. Organised we may not be, but I'll admit that you do need a good memory to have any chance of finding that all important document which is needed before little darling leaves for school in ten minutes. I don't have any evidence that our family's hoarding had deprivatory origins, and I'm also reluctant to consider the possibility of any OCD.

    I really enjoy your writing, and how you always manage to find just the right photograph to illustrate your posts. Looking forward to more!

  6. I save things, but I hate to throw away something I might need, someday...

    My dad saved every bill he had ever paid, along with the envelopes in which they were received.

  7. I love the photo.

    Theguy besides your father looks like young James Dean!

  8. Sorry to read about your dad. Beautiful photos - timeless

  9. I'm glad you all enjoy the photo. I have some more to scan & share eventually.

  10. yes... nice thread ))


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