I've written several times now about Russell Ries. As you may recall, he's the guy who purchased a cigar box full of old photos and other personal effects, all pertaining to the same person (who I refer to as John Doe). Russell did a little digging and discovered that John Doe was accused child neglect that resulted in the death of one of his children. Russell also discovered that while John Doe himself was now deceased, another one of his children was living in the Nashville area -- where Russell himself lives. He wondered if he should get in touch with the son and offer the photos and other items to him, or if he should keep his distance because the subject might be too painful. Several Permanent Record readers offered their own opinions on this.
Russell ultimately decided to get in touch with the son, whose name is Bill. (I had referred to him as Andy, to help protect his identity, but Russell is now ready to use his real first name.) Bill agreed to meet with Russell, and the meeting took place in Westmoreland, Tennessee, a few days ago. The photo above shows Russell on the left and Bill on the right.
Russell provided a detailed account of the meeting, including the following:
Until starting my drive to Westmoreland that morning, the full reality of the situation hadn't dawned on me. This was probably the final chapter of my connection to Bill and his family.
I had purchased the cigar box over Memorial Day weekend in 2011. And since that time, I had come to see myself as something of a steward of the memories contained within it. I had always hoped this day would come. But now faced with it, I began to lament the loss of my role in the story.
The truth was, no matter how close I may have felt to Bill or his father, I was a complete stranger to him. Some guy who, only last week, sent him a letter about pictures of his dad. He had been a compelling character in my life for over a year but I had literally just entered his. Would I be able to find any real connection with this man when we met? How would I feel about preserving and returning these memories to him if he turned out to be a jerk? It was a petty and small way to feel, I know. Fortunately, it proved to be without merit when we finally met.
There's more -- a lot more. To see how it all turns out, check out the full story on Russell's blog.
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A few housekeeping notes: It's been over two weeks since the last post here on the site. Sorry about that -- been busy with other projects. But Permanent Record is very much alive and well. In the coming days I'll be posting about a very PermaRec-ish book that I'm extremely excited about, along with the latest installment of Charlene Dodds's rephotography project, and hopefully a few other things.
Several people noticed the note at the end of last month's PermaRec article on Slate, which mentioned that there would be no more Slate articles for the foreseeable future. Just to clarify that, I plan to keep researching and investigating the stories behind the Manhattan Trade School report cards, and the Slate editors are happy to keep publishing PermaRec articles if I come across a student with a particularly powerful story. But they feel the basic goals of the series -- to tell about the school and its students -- have now been met. So any future articles will only be about report cards with particularly extraordinary stories to tell. (Of course, I think they're all extraordinary, but I understand the editors' point.)
My best wishes to all PermaRec readers for a safe and happy Christmas.