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Crop Circles

There's an art in turning scraps into memories.

At this retreat, scrapbooks are spread out on a long table so that croppers can peruse each other's work. Subject matter is sometimes predictable -- "A Family Trip to Disney World" -- but sometimes not. The scrapbook everyone is talking about is a two-volume behemoth put together by Littleton's Susie Kochsmeier. Half a collection of news clippings, half a journal of personal memories, it covers the Columbine High School shootings and their aftermath, as seen through the eyes of a Columbine mom living just a few blocks from the school.

"I started saving all the newspapers as I began attending the funerals," Susie says. "I thought I should put them together for my son Kent, who lost five friends there. I didn't write my memories until two months later, but there was nothing I missed. I'm a dot-dot-dot kind of writer..."

Into the scrapbook went...Susie's account of trying to reach her son by cell phone as the death toll mounted...a stencil of a black helicopter under the headline "Rescuers! Thank You!"...musings about the Klebold parents ("Trying to make sense of their son's actions...probably will never be possible")...a dried columbine that bloomed in her yard one month after the killings...

Labor of love: Creative Memories consultant Debra Bryson (below) is on the cutting edge of scrapbooking.
James Bludworth
Labor of love: Creative Memories consultant Debra Bryson (below) is on the cutting edge of scrapbooking.
James Bludworth

"It's very affecting," says Sherri Carringer, who attended her first crop in 1991. "You realize after a while that bigger subjects are out there. When I started out, I was a computer programmer, just moved here, no kids. I cropped things like our vacations. Like holidays."

A year later, a car accident put both her sister and her brother in comas -- from which her brother eventually woke up, but her sister didn't. "There's a couple of ways cropping tied into that, believe it or not," Sherri says. "My mom made pages for my brother in the hospital. They're not beautiful pictures, but when he first woke up, it was important that he knew who he was. As he recuperated, he saw how hard it is to explain to people that you've been in a coma. It's easier to show them: 'Look where I've been. Look how far I've come.'"

Sherri chose to work on an album for her sister, "and there were months I got very little done because I couldn't face the pictures, but that was okay -- it didn't matter how fast I finished it," she recalls. "By the time I was done, I no longer wanted to program computers. I wanted to help people connect."

In 1995 she signed on with Meda as a consultant. Halfway through the year, she quit her day job to teach cropping full-time. "And that's what mode I'm in now. I have two little kids at home, and my clients are the same. It's the everyday things that matter. That and all the firsts," she adds, opening a scrapbook that documents the first year of a baby's life -- not just with pictures of the First Step and the First Solid Food, but with a long pigment-pen description of the day Mom went into labor. The margins, of course, are full of pink baby bottles, cuddly bears and other it's-a-girl-iana.

"Well," says Sherri, "you get obsessed. And you need to do this, because when we look back on our childhoods, we tend to remember trauma and angst, and I want them to remember that they met Mickey Mouse, too."

A few tables away, sixteen-year-old Lauren Timkovich, attending her third annual crop retreat with her mother, Glenda, is documenting happy times, Creative Memories-style, in an album titled "Lauren's Trip to Chicago." She has just finished affixing tiny black-and-gold fan stickers to the deep-red page that represents Chicago's Chinatown. Across the table, Glenda is trying to wrangle her family's pre-history -- from the turn of the century to the 1940s.

"Our Heinz 57 genealogy and all that," she says cheerfully. "I stole these pictures, actually, from my father. He doesn't care about this stuff, and I do. And yes, I use my own handwriting. It may be crooked, it may be spelled wrong, but it's me."

The Willy Roy Page, she writes, and Dad's car. Dad always said it was a good car if you and your hat could fit into it.And he smoked a pipe and also chewed. He grew tobacco.

"That's nice," says Gina Kozubik, who's been cropping with the Timkoviches for three years. "But for me, this is selfish time. I'm working on 'The Book of Me.' I was a military brat, and my mother has passed away, and we lived so many places I barely remember. My father is 76. I have to figure all this out before he passes away or totally loses it. I don't have much time."

Rummaging through the piles of historic documentation at her feet, Gina pulls out grainy black-and-whites of herself learning to crawl, an envelope with a three-cent stamp that contains her own birth announcement, "and hmm, here I am picking my nose -- guess I won't use that."

"Gina is just beautiful," she reads, from a letter written in her dead mother's handwriting. "And you can't imagine how fat she is!"

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