The Old Beauty Case


Writing ‘Schicksal,’ I often came to dead ends. My three children inadvertently helped. I’m sure their intentions whilst pure were never intended to be so far reaching. Some months after my father’s death I packed up the unit that had been sold. The process incredibly painful for me left some things undone.

On NYE, I sat on the floor, determined not to bring unfinished business into a new beginning. The ‘too hard basket,’ as the white plastic laundry basket became known, contained items I had no idea what to do with. 

Among these random things were two old Benson and Hedges metal boxes containing photos.


I plucked up the courage to open them but felt like a thief. These highly private photos had remained hidden in their boxes for over fifty years. only once, as a child had my mother shared a photo from my father’s collection with me. I knew of their pasts, sleeping in the bottom drawer of the bedside tables.

A firm unspoken code of conduct forbade me from asking.


I opened the boxes and took out the photos. Soon a haphazard pile grew on the floor. We looked the four of us for meaning, for a familiar face. Most of the photos had no writing on them. Many contained the faces of people I’d never met. Probably they had died many years before.

I began to rework the piles, a simple process: an ‘in’ pile and an ‘out’ pile. The out pile grew alarmingly. Now thoroughly mixed up I had the images I wanted to keep. My children sat facing me legs crossed on the floor, resolute looks on their faces. At their feet were piles of photos.

“You can’t throw these out,” they chorused.

Years elapsed.

When my not knowing overwhelmed me and the internet research only made me more muddled than ever, I remembered the photos and took them from the bedside tables in my children’s rooms. Looking much more closely now, pieces of the puzzle began to fit. I still had many questions, though.

Were the images in Germany, France, Serbia or Australia? 


My mother-in-law placed her old once white beauty case on the table last Sunday. It contained her past, her family, a crazy cross-generational jumble of faces and places.Time flew as we peered into the past.

I have a few suggestions to prevent future confusion:

  • Spend time with the matriarchs and patriarchs in your family
  • Ask them about their lives
  • Write or record their stories 
  • Capture the uniqueness of their voice
  • Go through photos together
  • Write on the back of the images
  • Scan images at high resolution and save them
  • Store old photos carefully for future generations to enjoy

I hope this blog will encourage you to honour your role as a keeper, of your family’s story.


4 thoughts on “The Old Beauty Case

  1. Good advice and I hope people take it and also pass it along. If we take care of our pictures they not only will be kept but the stories of the people in the photographs will be remembered.


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