A faded picture of an elderly woman sitting in a blue chair and holding a baby.

Mabel on the Road

A faded picture of an elderly woman sitting in a blue chair and holding a baby.
This is one of the first times I met Mabel Purvis. I'm the short one.

A fun paradox of being a memory worker with a family history of dementia is that you're driven to preserve things even when you just how little of ourselves we are able to keep. My great-grandmother Mabel lived through two World Wars and a great depression, raised three children, was widowed, and cared for her elderly mother. Then along with her brother Oscar Roy (called Jack), his wife Vivian, and a panoply of cousins and church friends, she took several sepia-colored trips across the United States in the late 1970s. And she documented them copiously. Turns out I'm not the first archivist in the family.

I barely knew Mabel. I came across her scrapbooks almost twenty years after her death, while cleaning out the house as her daughter Betty, my grandmother, made the transition to Memory Care Supportive Housing. But preserving Mabel (And Jack. And Vivian.) is an act of love for me and one, I think, she would understand.

Sometimes I picture history as quickly-spinning reel of film. Slow it down; run it through your fingers. What looked like one big picture turns out to be thousands of tiny frames: moments of boredom, the carpet at the Howard Johnson, pictures of meals, inside jokes, handwriting you can barely read, and smiling faces squinting into the sun behind the camera. Our shared memories are precious and fragile. Please share this tiny part of Mabel's with me.