Monday, December 29, 2008

A thousand words doesn't begin to cover it

It was one of those mid-December days in the teens--the thirteenth or seventeenth, maybe--that all seem to run together. A lady came by looking for my mother. She was accompanied by a younger woman and two girls who I would later learn were her daughter and two granddaughters. Not recognizing them, I was reluctant at first to share any information.

Then as she started to leave, she said, "We're related to her."

"Oh... well, I'm her son."

Upon hearing that she sat her purse down and opened it. In a few seconds, she produced a small, somewhat worn flip photo album.

"Here's what I wanted to show her."

She opened the album. It was filled with pictures of my aunts and uncles when they were kids, teens, and newlyweds. In all, eight of Mom's eleven brothers and sisters were in at least one pictures. And most of them were in several. There were pictures of Mamaw and Papaw, great aunts and great uncles, and even my great grandmother. Pictures I had never seen. Most of them black and white.

I was overwhelmed. I had never seen more than a handful of photographs of my family from those days. As she flipped to each new picture, she would pause to see if I recognized the people in it. Sometimes I did. And if I didn't, when she told me who it was, I would see it immediately and smile and shake my head in amazement. Each photograph was priceless.

One picture had an old wall calendar in the background that dated it at 1968. Another had my fave aunt in it as a teenager. She was wearing a Bama t-shirt and looking a tad mischievous. Then there was one of Mom's elementary school pictures. And near the end of the album, a picture of Mom and Dad together, with Dad holding a guitar. I guess some things never change.

Some of the pictures would elicit a story from her, this lady who I found out during the course of conversation had married one of Mom's first cousins. The people I didn't know were almost as interesting to see and hear about as the people I did.

One picture was of my Uncle R with his arm around some girl I didn't know. They looked happy and young and full of life. I knew Uncle R wasn't married until he was in his forties.

"That's Alice," she said, as if sensing I was about to ask. "Oh, they were so in love. Those two would have gotten married but her daddy stopped it."

"Did her daddy have a problem with Uncle R?"

"He didn't want his daughter to marry R because of his..." She motioned her hand, unable to think of the word.

"Epilepsy." I finished her sentence. Uncle R had pretty severe seizures as long as I knew him. He died when he was fifty, just three months after Mamaw passed away. Hearing this story, I was very sad for him.

There was a picture of my Great Uncle J, who I'd never seen. His hair was slicked back and he had a Clark Gable moustache which caused me to remark that it looked like he was a ladies' man.

"Oh, you have no idea." She then proceeded to tell a story of how he got a job at a restaurant and dated a waitress there until his first paycheck, then he quit. He called the waitress and told her he couldn't work anymore because he'd been in a bad wreck and broke his arm, his leg, and several ribs, none of which was true.

There must have been fifty pictures or more, and I guess we sat there thirty or forty-five minutes looking through every one and talking about them. My eyes had already gotten moist. Then when we were done, she held out the album as if to give it to me.

"Oh, no. I couldn't possibly..."

"Yes. That's what I brought it for. I figured your mother would like to see these."

I was floored. There were no words to express my gratitude or emotions in that moment.

An idea occurred to me, so I asked her if it would be alright if I wrapped up the photo album and gave it to Mom "from Santa" for Christmas. She said she would like that very much. I promised her I'd guard them with my life. I told her I'd be sure Mom knew that she was the one responsible for the pictures, and even had her write her name and number on a piece of paper and slipped it inside the front cover.

I'm sure I told her thank you at least ten times. And before she got up to leave, still shaking my head in amazement, I said, "This is Christmas."

And it was.

"Here's the last one that we ever took of Daddy. We tried hard to make him smile but never did. And here's one I caught of you when you weren't ready. And here I am when I was just a kid..."


  1. Wow. I would have loved to see the look on your mom's face when she opened that gift!

    Any idea why this generous woman decided to give the album to your mother instead of one of the other siblings?

  2. Wow! What an awesome gift. Will you share what your mom thought about it? "enquiring minds want to know"

  3. My Mom has 11 brothers and sisters, too. I used to know how many cousins I had, but I have lost count now. It's a LOT though...

  4. Wow what an awesome story and gift. You made me cry. But then again I get weepy this time of year. Maybe one day you might post a few of the pictures. I hope your Mom liked her Santa gift.

  5. Was Aunt ten dollars in it?

    Beautiful Bone but a bit mysterious. Who was the woman?

    They didn't have film in the 60's so it was difficult taking photographs :)

  6. That's an incredible story! My mom has several old photographs hanging througout the house and I always thought it silly to display them instead of us. She started telling me stories about them one day and now I love looking at the pictures - wondering how their lives were similar to mine and how they were different. I love old photographs.

    Sometimes I get sad that we live in such a digital world. I remarked to a friend that people won't 'stumble upon a box of letters and photographs in an attic' anymore. Instead, they might find a box of cds, thumb drives, and memory cards...not nearly as enchanting.

  7. It does make you want to believe in a little bit of Christmas magic, doesn't it?

    This is a wonderful story, Bone. I think it would be great if you kept the photo of your parents, and showed it to your own children - and nephew Bone of course - someday. They'll love seeing old photos of the people they love, too :)

  8. R8chel - No, I kind of wondered that myself. Four of her siblings have passed away. One uncle lives several hours from here, and I'm not for sure where two others live. So maybe she was just more accessible?

    Renee - Well, I think it's safe to say she liked it. She started crying as soon as she saw the first picture, and anytime she cries she tries to hide her face so we can't see.

    Susan - Yeah, it is a lot. I *think* I have 27 first cousins on that side, but that varies plus or minus 3 at any given time :) I wouldn't trade having a big family for anything though.

    PennyCandy - I definitely would have posted some of the pictures if I had a scanner. I suppose I need to invest in one.

    Pia - No, Aunt Who Always Gives Me Ten Dollars wasn't in any of the pictures.

    The woman turned out to be Mom's first cousin by marriage. I put that in the story, but it may not have been very clear.

    Charlotta - I had some of the same thoughts looking at these old photographs, about how much simpler life was back then. It's also made me realize the importance of taking pictures now. And getting them printed, not just storing them all on a computer.

    TC - Well, I suppose I have always believed in a bit of Christmas magic :)

    Yeah, I think I'm going to see if I can have copies of all the photographs made, for me.

  9. Well, one way to get "digital" copies of the photos - like to post or just have on your computer - without a scanner, is to use a digital camera and take a picture of the picture. My S-I-L taught me that trick as she did that for a LOT of photos when she made a video for her parents' 40th anniversary party of old photos. I've done it for a couple of posts myself as having a scanner for a couple of things every year or two doesn't make much sense. Just a suggestion.

    But if I were you, I too would try and get an entire set of those photos to keep :)

  10. How cool Bone. What a very special present for your mother.

  11. Those are tthe coolest three things: that she brought the pics, that she spent time with you, and that you made it a Christmas surprise. Couldn't stop smiling.

  12. I thought your volume of "Why I'm Still Single" is vol 35 for a few more weeks. ;)

    I'm glad your mom liked the album though.

    Hey TC, thanks for reminding me about taking the pictures of pictures. I've been meaning to transfer some pix to my family tree stuff.

  13. TC - Well, that did cross my mind, but I wasn't sure how well they'd turn out. The photos are old and some of them are already kinda hard to see.

    Kontan - It was! I think I finally outdid my sister for best gift of the year! And isn't that what it's all about? :)

    Marcia - OK, now I've got that song in my head. These are a few of my favorite things...

    Renee - Oh, you're right. I guess I got ahead of myself. By the way, there's this bench I've been wanting for my birthday.

  14. Old photos are awesome!

    After my grandmother passed away, and as my parents were going through her possessions, dividing things up among the nine living children (they had 11 in all), mom made photocopies of all the photos she came across. She made sets for her, my sister, brother, me and my aunts....I've put them all in a binder with other family history info - it's a great source of info, and now photos!

    Take pictures of the photos, or borrow them and make copies at Kinkos...or borrow a scanner for a few'll be worth it later. Trust me!!!! :-)

  15. Cindy - Well, I was wondering if you could get copies of photos made, if all you have are the original photos. I guess you can then. I definitely need to do that.