Crop Circles

There's an art in turning scraps into memories.

"Ha," she laughs. "Prophetic. And here I am with my brother, both of us going to prom. Look at those ridiculous clothes! And this girl! I made him take her -- or no one else would have. My brother's dead now, too. A suicide."

"What do you think?" Glenda asks her. "What if you had to decide your one favorite cropping tool? What would it be? Your corner-rounder? Your heart-shaped hole punch? Scissors?"

"Straight or deckle?" Gina counters. "How could you ever decide?

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

You don't have to. You can always buy more. Even the sticker collections arrayed along one wall -- 45 cents per sheet -- are painstakingly precise. Get specific. Go with a theme. How about dump trucks? Blow dryers? Penguins? Saxophones? Your consultant has it, or can find it. Uninspired? Check out the twice-daily crop talks. Look through someone else's album for ideas. And pay attention, because you never know when, smack in the middle of a run-of-the-mill diary of one woman's trip to England, you'll find a sentence like this:

"Chris and I shared an Orange Sunset smoothie, and then he took off my sock and shoe, and kissed my foot."

Or, half an album later, a two-page spread titled BUNS OVER BRITAIN!

As the second crop talk of the day begins -- HEADLINES! -- Debra Bryson sits alone in a room down the hall that serves as a Creative Memories store, selling starter packs, albums and specialty supplies such as the "ethnic" and "Judaic" stencil and sticker sets.

"I'm a plain-vanilla consultant, nothing more," Debra announces. "My neighbor's wife was a consultant, and I said no to her for six months. My thought was: A photo album is a photo album."

That changed with Debra's first pregnancy. "It was my only pregnancy," she corrects, "and I knew that -- it had been extremely difficult to conceive. I had all the cards of congratulations, the printout of her heart rate. I decided to do something special for her. Also, I work as a product manager for a big corporation, and I knew there was nothing I could do to include my daughter in that. So I decided to do this. There's no right or wrong -- it's stickers and glue, and kids love that."

Soon after the birth, Debra became a consultant. As a result, her daughter has never known a non-cropping life. Now four years old, she takes her camera to Montessori school every day, where she is permitted to take five pictures.

"And, of course, she has her own album, and she's in all my albums," Debra says. "Well, most of them. There's another thing I do, for myself. I quilt with paper, the old quilt patterns of the underground railroad. I know I won't ever have time to sew the quilts my great-aunts used to make, not with a child in the house. But I love putting the strips of color together, and where does it say I can't?"

On top of the strips of color, some of them five layers deep, Debra has begun to write. At first she wrote poems from a deeply religious perspective. Sometimes, after a hard day at work, she gets philosophical:

Life is a present

Be present to receive it.

More often, she writes a down-to-earth account of exactly what happened in a photograph. The children never made it to the bedroom. Here they are asleep on the rug. Or, Grandma came to visit.

But it's better to be even more specific. "I tell all my clients to journal the important stuff. Who are these people, and what, exactly, are they doing? It's one thing to write This is grandma. It's quite another to say This is grandma and she put all this stuff in her hair and it smelled AWFUL. Write down the inappropriate things she always said," Debra advises. "The inappropriate and wonderful things. It's your book. You can do what you want."

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