PICTURES FROM THE PAST

Editor’s Note: Following is a page from my spiritual journal.

I nosed my Honda under low-hanging branches of my cousin’s elm tree. Though the calendar read October, the afternoon was summerlike. I don’t want a hot car later on..

Cousin Julie and her husband Stan met regularly with me over recent months to sort my deceased aunt’s collection of papers and pictures. I knocked on the kitchen door and heard a distant, “Come in!”

Pushing open the door, I stepped into the room filled with fresh coffee aroma. Stan appeared, his strong build filling the small doorway. “I just made coffee. Help yourself.”

“Thanks!” I reached into the cupboard for a mug. Inhaling its steam, I walked into the living room where Cousin Julie sat in a large recliner. A nearby rocker set at a 90’degree angle was my usual spot. I set the coffee on a small table and leaned over and gave my cousin a hug. “How’re ya’ doing?”

Cousin Julie and Stan

Mostly an invalid these days Julie said, “Today’s a good day.”

Behind me Stan carried in a large cardboard box. He set it on the floor to the right of the rocker. He straightened. “Maybe we can get through this today.”

He walked away and returned with a small folding table which he set up between the rocker and the box. He pulled up a folding chair and sat. To his right, a coffee table completed a sort of circle.

Stan turned and reached into the box. He pulled out a handful of mixed black and white three-by-four-inch pic-tures. He looked at them. “I don’t recognize these people except for one man I think we decided was your grandma’s older brother. I shuffled through the images. “I don’t know others except great-grandma next to her brother. Maybe Julie will recognize someone.”

My cousin who was already wearing glasses set a second pair loosely over the first. She held out her hand. “I’ll take a look.”

L to R: “ Brother Nute and Grandma Anna” written in pencil on the back without a date

Julie handed the photo back. “Only know what it says on the back. You want it?”

“I’ll hang onto it for a while.” Maybe I’ll get a DNA test done and take an interest in these folks someday. I handed Stan other similar photos for the “toss out” pile.

As Stan pulled out an-other handful, I told them about my son David’s recent visit.

A quick look at the next batch Stan gave me sent them all to the “toss” pile. Next, he pre-sented photos of a pretty young woman who had apparently dressed up for her picture, though all shots were taken outdoors. No flash back then. They probably need lots of light. Aloud I said, “Lots of pictures of a young lady dressed up.”

Julie said, “That’s Nola Mae. I always heard she was pretty and had nice clothes.”

I echoed the name. “Nola Mae?”

Julie nodded, “Yeah. She died young – but I don’t know of what.”

Like her, I used to like to dress in pretty clothes and wear a hat! Daddy took lots of pictures of me. I kept one of the photos.

Nola Mae

We settled into a steady stream of responses: “For California” (where our other cousin lives), “For Seth” a second cousin, “For Sara,” Julie’s granddaughter, “I’ll take that one!” and “Toss!”

After an hour, Stan stood to get another box. In her corner, Julie tipped up her tall ice tea glass and ice cubes rattled. I asked, “So what’s up with Sara and her mom?”

Julie shook her head again. “Nothing I like very much, but I have no control over them.”

I thought of what JK often said when asked about his children he sees little. “They are doing well: healthy and happy.”

I could learn from Julie and JK!

Carrying another carton, Stan reappeared. “We can’t do all this, but we can start.”

Stan offered me a stack. I was immediately taken – not with the people in one of the pictures, but the type of snapshot. It was a black-and- white Polaroid! I remember when Daddy got that camera! We were all so excited with instant photographs—but there was a special coating that had to be applied – some kind of fixative. We had to wait for it to dry. Aloud, I said, I’ll take this one.”

L to R: Julie’s mother and Gramma Bernice.

Early 1960s (See faint Polaroid – edge at right?)

While we continued shuffling through black-and-white photos, Julie began to produce a dry cough.

Stan glanced at his wife. “I know that sound. She’s had enough of smelling these old things.”

Julie reached for her inhaler and said to me, “I don’t know how you can stand the moldy smell!”

“Allergy shots.” I said, claiming one last photo. “I smell that too, but I can tolerate it be-cause of those bi-weekly injections.”

I held up several images of ladies sitting at card tables

“If you don’t want these of Gramma’s card party, I’d like them.”

Glancing at them, Julie asked, “Do you know those women?”

“Just that one friend of Gramma’s. It’s the living room background I want to remember: that old wallpaper, Grampa’s “big” chair. And on that shelf above the one lady I remember there’s a little plastic weather-telling house. When the weather was to be good, two children came out of the house. When the weather was to be bad, an old hag came out. I tried to push the old woman back in many times, but she always came back out.” Nice memories!

Julie nodded. “I recall that little house and the children. But I thought it was a witch— and Hansel and Gretel.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Maybe that’s what it was meant to be…”

Card party and shelf. House is hard to see.

As I drove home in fall’s slanted sunlight, I passed har-vested fields and trees turning yellow. I felt grateful.

Old images preserved not only my family history, but also precious childhood memories. I am blessed to have time with my cousin and share the bounty Auntie Alma left behind.

Frances Fritzie
Frances Fritzie

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