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Marilyn Heltzer's PrimeTime column: Saving memories the old-fashioned way

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I've told you that I'm the Last of the Letter Writers.

However, I've been slacking off lately. E-mails are so much easier. But I did send a long one off to my friend Pamela in New Mexico. We'd had one of our once-every-six-months phone conversations, and I had a bunch of other stuff to tell her. I said, "I'll just send a letter." Ever the Scandinavian, I added, "You can pour yourself a cup of coffee and read away."

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"How about a glass of wine?" she says. Pamela is Italian. Okay, honey, whatever.

I have now discovered a new distinction. It's another of those functions of age. I love to get pictures printed and put them in a photo album with comments and identification of the people in the pictures. I'm not talking scrapbooking. That's an entire industry that involves patterned paper, stickers of a hundred designs and books into which you slip your works of art (that do include photos) into vinyl pages. There are even scrapbooking retreats. Which I do not deride. But honest, all I want to do is sit here at the dining room table and cut and arrange pictures and write some stuff about them.

My biggest challenge is finding the right kind of book. Just try and find an old-fashioned scrapbook - one with heavy pages, held together with little gold chords, or with spiral backing or bound -- just a good old book with large, plain pages. I've searched the town and the Internet and a non-vinyl-loaded book is almost impossible to find. Which is really a shame because I have more pictures than ever, thanks to my swell digital camera.

I love that camera. I can shoot a picture, take a look and decide instantly if I need to take another one. The only ones I get printed are the ones I really want.

Gone are the days of going to the photo shop and eagerly opening the envelope and finding that only a dozen or so of the 24 prints I paid for are worth saving.

It is, of course, a generational thing. My high school Memory Book is filled with tiny black and whites. Even prom pictures weren't in color. Some years later, when our girls were babies, a kind man named Mr. Bach came to our house and took the photos, also black and white.

Most of the moms on our block in St. Louis Park were stay-at-homes, and we were all one-car families. So having the photographer come and set up his gear in the living room was a real service.

Those kiddos are now computer people and zip off photos online. I do not believe that many of them are ever printed. Our oldest daughter, a Mac user, concludes many family events with a presentation, set to music, in which we can see ourselves at the table, opening the gifts, walking on the shore, splashing in the water - whatever she has caught on her digital camera, transferred to her computer, and worked some magic that I do not fully understand.

And it's great. But I'll stick with printed pictures, even as my mom and grandma did. But I'm more careful about labeling them.

How many families have ancient pictures from generations gone by that are passed around at family events: "Now, who do you think that is, standing next to Uncle John?" And while those generations handed down far fewer pictures, they were clearly of great value, with children all dressed up, the boys in stiff collars, the girls with bows in their hair. Such good, decent people. I do need to have a few pictures of myself taken in something other than jeans. I can see future generations saying, "Did she even own a dress?"

Of course, there's this: When I pass from the earth, our daughters will wonder what on earth they should do with these 30-plus picture albums. I will advise them now: Do a Pamela. Pour a glass of wine. It'll take you a while to get through them. Take out a few favorites. And then you have my permission to ceremonially toss out the whole shebang. And yes. The wine will help.

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