Look Pleasant Please

R.B. McKnight Sr. (photographer) & Bob McKnight, Jr. (subject)

At some point during the past year, I built a mountain of all the printed film that I had been hoarding. No overnight visitors were expected so the gigantic pile of photos slid around atop twin beds in our guest room like a scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Not that I needed reminding but the vision was a strangely appealing metaphor by virtue of current chaos everywhere.

Appearances have it that hoarders have made friends with chaos which if not taken to extremes can add value to the examined life. The Mayo Clinic website states that “hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them.” Well I’ll be damned.

For now I am the remnant of maternal and fraternal family branches who choses to save the ephemera. Gratefully I have just realized my dilemma at a time when a decently rambling past gives me perspective.

I was not the photographer for the preponderance of them, several hundred are castaways or were gifted to me. A roommate of yesteryear was aware enough of my deficiency to document my collegiate whereabouts. Her caretaking has not been lost on me though my appreciation is late in coming. Thank you Lynn.

The idea that with some deep breathing and relaxed blocks of time I might design a curated demonstration for interested family members was appealing so I punted the idea of tossing them all onto the landfill of forgotten dreams. In the process another friend suggested that I could employ a discreet professional within the contemporary vocation of hoarding cleanup services which I most certainly would have done as a younger person, but then I would have missed the mind-boggling analysis which comes to those who crave introspection.

Overwhelming as a term is not an understatement. The life review of an eccentric southern family (is there any other kind?) comes to mind. In addition to the faded color prints and Swinger snapshots, there are the masses of black and white/sepia toned ones built to last. They still flow into our inter sanctum by way of a character flaw that I call over-thinking and yet I don’t mind being in the same tribe as Dalton’s Aunt Mary or my Great Aunt Mattie.

Late in life Aunt Mary presented us with a scrapbook that she curated with bits and pieces that came her way from our life – a running commentary of Roben and Dalton as she saw it. What others called irrelevant, she stashed away: invitations, letters, newspaper clippings, photos (usually posed before the same family antique) and as a proselytizing key to heaven, Bible quotes to match.

Aunt Mary’s donated documentation

The challenge I have is a weblike memory that strings me emotionally to each photo no matter the quality. My Tupelo Grandfather (R. B. McKnight, Sr.) had a dark room where I sometimes stood behind him as he developed his favorite subjects: people and buildings. I particularly loved the way he clipped the ghosts-like images to a clothes line that he rigged in his man-cave backyard shack.

When he died there were countless unmarked photos to confront. This cemetery of unknowns still brings on a tailspin whenever I spot stacks of mysterious souls while thrifting. My destiny is to linger there and wonder how these flags from the past can be lowered into oblivion. It seems a loss to introspection of families everywhere.

The visual record of my family past is liken to what a local county commissioner once said when he described his days of serving as being “enjoyable and depressing.” Even so I go “at it” with enthusiasm during work day hours. It’s as if I have tickets to a broadway play; each photo, a new act.

Whether I knew them or not, the actors are brilliant in their disguises of unrelenting critic, high minded lawyer, overworked teacher, angry teen, frustrated photographer, alcoholic housewife, defeated optimist, failed cartoonist, troubled veteran, timid business woman and most revealing of all unmasked child. They are each exquisitely frozen for eternity and somehow I feel a common emotion flowing from their mass, and it appears in its effervescence as love.

What a relief in an age where some folk fuel dark energy with a distrust of others. I work on forgiveness for those who forget this garden of eden called life.

Author Philip Shepard sensitizes readers in Radical Wholeness to embrace the whole of people known and unknown who have comprised your journey. He says, “I feel the presence of a mystery that is simply there, always, ready to support my next step forward.”

With that prompt I have simmered down with a plan to relegate my photo piles by person or subject into bamboo boxes, or large albums with old fashioned corners and captions or small hand held linen books curated by noteworthy topics.

As for the hoard of 1,000 photos which hover in the cloud, I honor my good fortune having lived the span of the old world and the new. The creative process has been enhanced by this techno-transformation so revelations by way of freeze-frame will be there for the deciphering to infinity and beyond as long as I do my part discarding the worthless and labeling the rest.

My Great Aunt Mattie McKnight was not invited to our wedding per my Mother. My parents scuffled over her ungoverned tongue and camera-strapped petite frame. My Father favored her eccentricity, but my Mother had no time for her aberrant behavior during a special occasion.

To this day, I am sad that she was not allowed to document the contrast she might have provided to the professional photographer my Mother hired. I can hear Aunt Mattie’s clipped edict even now as she queued us all into an aesthetic composition: “Look pleasant please.”