There will be few people who recognize the picture featured in this post. It is actually my great grandfather and grandmother from my mother's side of the family. I am guessing the picture was taken between 1900 and 1917. I am actually using it to represent another picture from a much more modern time. The newer picture has an interesting story and unfortunately my digital copy of it is buried on a computer that I have in storage.
First a little history will set the stage. In 1987 our family moved from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Columbia, Maryland. I was working for Apple and our Columbia based team was part of the Southern Operations group. That fall we had one of the many meetings which seem to define our life at Apple. At the time Apple had a very large distribution center in Charlotte, North Carolina and our sales group was also based there. Our meeting was in Williamsburg, Virginia and our director arranged for a picture to be taken of the whole group of well over one hundred people. The picture ended up in the Charlotte sales office.
Though I had been at Apple for three years, moving to the states taught me a quick lesson in working in corporations. When you move, you sometimes have to start all over again. That was certainly to be my experience over and over at Apple. Any new job meant that you had to prove yourself once again. In 1987, I had gone from being one of the top sales reps in Canada to just another sales rep face in the crowd.
Five or six years later I become a manager at Apple. If you are a keen Apple historian, you probably know that the nineties were a very interesting time at Apple. The company was pulling the rug out from under its own feet, and sometimes it was hard to tell where first base was much less who was on it.
As soon as I was promoted, I quickly moved my team from Columbia to the Reston, Virginia office. Being the low dog on the totem pole in that office, I was forced to share a cubicle with my area associate. The building housed something over 75 people focused on Apple's federal business. I did not mind sharing with my area associate since I spent much of time on the road visiting higher education customers who were spread from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. Roanoke, Virginia which became our home happened to be much closer to the geographic center of my customers than Reston.
Within the first year of moving to Reston, Apple closed the Columbia office and almost all of those folks disappeared. Next the Charlotte distribution center was closed much to the chagrin of our customers who loved the job that the Charlotte folks did. Not much over a year after my manager hired me, he lost his job and I ended up reporting to an office in Philadelphia. About a year after that I was the last manager standing in the North Carolina area and was given the job of closing down the Charlotte office.
As we were disposing of things I came upon the picture that was taken that first fall in Williamsburg. Almost all the managers in the picture and a great many of the people were no longer at Apple. The picture was in a pile that was slated to carted off to the trash bins. It was a large picture and I knew that I would get in trouble with my wife, but I hauled it home. The picture still meant something to me and I hoped that I could find a proper home for it.
If you fast forward a couple of years, I am no longer in charge of a higher education district but I have been given an enterprise district based in Reston, Virginia and it has the remnants of Apple's federal team which is down to one person. I am now in a stronger position so I take the picture to the Reston office and we find a spot to hang it though few people other than me in the office know anyone in the picture.
Fast forward another few years to 2002 or so, I am now the manager in charge of the Reston facility and we are building another federal team. The picture is on the wall but Apple decides to renovate the office space. I am worried that the picture which even fewer people can relate to will get thrown away. I take it back to Roanoke, Virginia where it stays tucked behind a filing cabinet.
In 2012, I have been gone from Apple for eight years. As we are moving from Roanoke and cleaning out the house, the picture once again surfaces. This time I am determined to find it a home. No one in my family knows anyone in the picture besides me and I am hard to find. It does not take me long to find the one person in the picture still working at Apple and within driving distance of our home. I call him up and arrange to have lunch with him and convince him to take the picture home with him. What will happen to the picture when he has to clean out his office is something I cannot let enter my mind. I have done the best that I can to honor the picture and the good memories that are attached to it. Apple never placed any value on it and actually fired or laid off almost everyone in the picture. Did I honor the picture by hanging onto it for twenty years even though much of the time it was not hanging on a wall? I like to think being behind my filing cabinet was better than ending up in a garbage dump.
It occurs to me that as a society we are singularly unskilled at preserving information about items that might have great sentimental value with just a little context. When we were cleaning our house out, we were also going through photos that we had inherited from my mother. There were many that no living relative could identify. I certainly could not put a name on them. Other than a handful that I saved for artistic value, we threw all of them away. I wish that the pictures had been labeled.
Our children have asked their mother to write down where many family items originated. We are working on that slowly. We are fortunate to have at least one young adult in the family who is very organized and loves to structure information and things.
When I was at Apple after my area associate had been with me for a number of years, she became the historian of things in our Reston office. Once Apple decided that they no longer needed her, I am certain that the knowledge that she had amassed disappeared. Corporations rarely care about their own history and institutions often do not take the time or make it a priority for people to write down things which might help others understand the significance of things like the picture that I protected for nearly two decades.
I have worked hard over the last few years, scanning pictures and documents and labelling them when necessary. I have also taken a number of pictures of important family items. On top of that I have written three books which have pictures of many of those same items and the people who are important to our family. The books will have great value to our family without ever coming close to being best sellers. Our family's story can be passed down from generation to generation as well as I could piece it together.
Perhaps graduating with a focus in history has made history important to me, but I worry that much of what we have as a society is losing value because the only ones who understand the true meaning of these things are dying off. There is so little effort to write down the important things that our elders know and which will disappear with them when they are gone.
Without a massive change which I do not see on the horizon, this is where our society is headed. We will be throwing things away that might well have helped to define us and explain why we are who we are. If we took the time we spend on Facebook or sending text messages, we could easily add a wealth of knowledge from the generation that will gone in the blink of an eye.
We all need to look around and see what is hanging on the walls. There are stories to be recorded and memories to be saved if we will only take the time.