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..."