. . .they were Paul and Anne. . .
During each of my weekly pilgrimages to and from Dad’s, it is a guarantee that I’ll be leaving Dad’s with more than what I brought. Be it some sort of item from either my childhood or his, it is all slowly tricking out of that house. Gloria seems most determined to empty that house of not merely things that were my mother’s or grandmothers, but of most things in general. It seems she is truly of the mindset less is more. . .much to Dad’s chagrin.
Last week it was the dinning room chandelier (nothing large or garish, but it was Mother’s) and two side chairs. The week before that it was 4 dinning room chairs and a clock. Before that it was a side table and a corner cabinet. I have thought that perhaps I need to open some sort of antique store as I cannot continue bringing home so much “stuff”. . .I cannot house the things that are essentially coming from 3 separate households!
This week was no different.
“You’re taking the hall painting this week right.” Gloria tells rather than asks.
“I thought that you were putting it back up after they finished painting the hall?” I ask more than state.
It’s a beautiful large early 19th century English landscape painting that was my grandmothers. It is something I’ve always loved but it has hung in our house for as long as I can remember. I couldn’t believe Dad was letting her “dispose” of it so easily as he’s always loved the paintings that Nany had procured over her long life.
It wasn’t the tables or chairs however that caught my eye this week, but rather a box of very old photographs and mementos. I’m a sucker for old pictures as they tell so many stories— long time forgotten. They are the physical and tangible evidence of the lives once lived by individuals who have long since departed this life–of those who have gone before us. They hold the key to so many mysteries and secrets and yet often create more mysteries than those that they solve. They are also visual links to our past—my past.
Once home I eagerly sat down to open the box–not knowing what wonderful treasures I’d find. It was an old box that was a precursor to a Harry and David’s holiday fruit box. Obviously it was a box of pears Nany and Pop had received years before I was even born as the post mark read 1955. Inside the box, inside this cardboard time capsule of my world before I ever was, was a treasure trove of very old photos, cards, announcements, report cards and newspaper clippings.
I don’t know why but every time I find something such as this, a box full of someone else’s lifetime, I find myself growing a bit forlorn, enveloped in a blanket of bitter sweet sadness. More questions arise and there is simply no one around any longer who can answer the growing queries. Who was this handsome young man? Whose children were these? Where is this house–does it still exist? Who’s that in the uniform and of which war was he sent? Endless questions which are now my present frustration.
Then suddenly, buried under the yellowing envelopes and fading memories, I spy a small, over exposed, little black and white image of a young couple in what appears to be a small canopied boat of sorts as the hint lies with the young man’s right hand resting on a throttle.
“What is this?” I hear myself inwardly whispering. “Nooo” I softly breathe as in disbelief. “Is this really them?” The year is around 1921, the year they married. I can see the ring on his hand so I know it is 1921 or a year or so later–no children yet, so it is before 1923—perhaps it’s from the honeymoon. They are but 25, the same age my son is today. . .a surreal image I grapple to digest.
On first glance I see a young couple, very much together. Then I begin to “study” the image. . . It must warm weather, most likely hot and muggy as the image is taken somewhere here in the deep south. He’s wearing what appears to be white pants and an unbuttoned loosely fitting white shirt as his sleeves are rolled up. He seems a bit shy and boyish but yet comfortable and in control in the “captain’s seat.”
She is shadowed, peering from behind, almost concealed in the background, something which will most certainly not be her style later in life. She looks cute and casual, almost tomboyish in the hat which covers her head. She’s wearing knickers with striped knee socks. Her round face always distinctive, which is how I quickly recognize her, yet I can’t make out the unmistakable clef of her chin–both telltale distinctive facial images–and yet there are no glasses– something they both were never without in later years.
She is holding, almost embracing him and resting her face gently against his shoulder. He is open armed as if he could or would simply turn to embrace her. She did not have a father growing up as he was killed in a distant war when she was only four—was this now the masculine figure she had longed for to fill a void in her heart that she never realized she had need of until now?
Never before have I seen, in photographs or in my memory, any sort of demonstrative display of tender affection such as this nor had I witnessed such in the time I had known them–nothing as tender as what is visible in this brief snapshot of time. I am deeply touched as I feel the warm tears filling my eyes as being privy to this seemingly intimate moment is very moving.
He died well before he should have. It was 1967 and he was but 66. She lived much longer, and sadly without him, dying in 1983 at the age of 87. I was 7 when my grandfather died so I did not know them as a couple for as long as I knew her as my grandmother alone. She had a terrible time the year following his death. We wondered if she would survive.
Ours was never a demonstrative family. We did not hug, we did not say “I love you” —that was all shown differently. Why was that I now found myself wondering as I stared at this picture. This pictures speaks differently. When did things change?
I never knew her to own a pair of pants as she was always in a dress and always impeccable. But in this picture there is a casualness that she never showed during the time I knew her–when we were kids, we were not allowed to wear bluejeans when visiting her. Prim and proper was the only way to describe her–a bastion of southern genteel society. But in this picture I see a young woman most comfortable and easy going–happy and content. Hummm. . .
In this photograph lives a time long before the long life which would lay ahead for each of them and of how it would eventually play out. This is a moment of “before.” A moment in time when they had no idea of what lay ahead–of where or of how life would take them. Nor that 92 years from the day their picture was taken that a granddaughter would come to meet them.
The photograph is tenderly sweet–they are such a young couple obviously very much in love. As this is the moment of “before” they have no way of knowing what it is I know today—I know how the whole story turned out and yet the couple in this picture has no idea. It is all so amazing–life and of its stories–the now and the thens. A single moment frozen in time, before a life time of a legacy was to take hold.
There would be two sons, two daughter-n-laws’ she outliving one of the daughter-n-laws; 6 grandchildren, two who tragically did not survive past thirty and again, she outlived; 8 great grandchildren and now 6 great great grandchildren. And so it goes. .
It totally blows my mind as I gaze at this couple who lovingly and mysteriously gaze back at me, their granddaughter. I am happy that I did know them together, albeit it briefly—I wish it had been longer, much longer–as there are now so many questions.
As we enter this week of Thanksgiving. I must give thanks for so much more than the obvious things–those tangible blessings. I want to offer thanks to Paul and Anne, who loved one another. Who had two sons, both of whom they loved as well. Who would claim me as their grandchild even though I was adopted. They claimed me as theirs, always. They did for me as much as they did for the biological grand children. I was theirs and they were mine. . .and for that, I will always be thankful.
The link this image has to my life today is as mysterious as it is joyful. I must take nothing for granted for it all is a gift, no matter how small and distant.
I leave you with the moving words and thoughts of the Trappist monk Thomas Merton. . .
“To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.
Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.”
― Thomas Merton