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Your Family Tree is Riddled With Ghosts

January 9, 2011 1 comment

When we went down to LA to visit my mom before Christmas last month, she had this big box of photos sitting there. Detritus. Family detritus. Weird photos! I knew it before I even asked.

Every family has a big box of confusing photos. Random snapshots of people, a lot of them dead, some more of them alive. Many of them are black and white and printed on paper with strangely corrugated edges. Using developing techniques which are unfamiliar to you. The images will be largely unrelated to each other thematically; you only have them because someone once put one away in a box, and then added to that box every time someone else sent them a picture. That box was passed down to someone else in your family, and then again, and now you own it: a box full of somebody else’s memories.

So I knew that. But I kind of wanted that. “Your uncle paid some guy at Ritz Camera to scan them in and he wasn’t happy with the job they did; he said the CD they gave him was missing lots of photos he knew were in the box. So I’m going through them to see if I can find things I want and then I’ll have somebody scan them.”

“Done,” I said. I have an all-in-one printer, I explained. It does three things kind of badly all at once!

“But, there are a lot of these things,” she started to say, but I was having none of it. “Doesn’t matter,” I said, snatching up the box with both hands. “I’ve got both time and the wherewithal.”

And then I disappeared in a puff of logic, reappearing instantaneously approximately 400 miles north, with toner-stained fingers.

And the first thing I’m noticing here, after getting through the first big batch of modern, color snapshots, is that there are a ton of people in my family whom I have no idea who. I mean, no clue. If they were ghosts and haunted me, I would be all like “Somebody else’s ghost! Oh noes…”

And the second thing that I had no idea about is that apparently my family could star in a book called Wisconsin Death Trip Part II:

I’m sure everybody’s ancestors look weird, bathed in stark contrast and low resolution, their faces hidden by 100-year-old shadows and framed by long-dead trees and swing sets long since reduced to splinters, but jesus christ! Is that baby wearing a stocking cap? AM I AMISH?

My grandfather, who was actually a very nice midwestern security guard and veteran of two world wars. Meet Al Capone’s brother. They called him Ripped Up Face.

“Sorry Ma, I didn’t mean to do it! Please don’t send me to the Scarin’ Tree again! I’ll be good!”

I think this is an arm holding some kind of fish. Everybody died of botulism.

I did find one very pleasant image, and it’s a little girl and a puppy in a wagon and there’s nothing scary about that at all and everybody loves kids and puppies and wagons. But there will be more Death Trip to come, because did I mention there are hundreds and maybe thousands of these things? Because there are.

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