As the final cold winds of February made their way across the cedar tree and ice covered Tennessee farmland of my Versailles homestead recently, I made my way to the kitchen table with a cup of coffee to gaze upon some papers once belonging to my mother. The winds outside were knife sharp, but the glow from my fireplace and a scrapbook that she once cherished laying before me seemed to make the day much more bearable.
Last year I lost my mother, making me the only surviving member of our original family of five. Along with my mother and father, there was my older and wiser brother of seven years beyond me, and my gorgeous sister who was five years older and seemed to be my second mother at times. We all lived in a small frame house on the family farm during a time when life seemed to be perfect, at least to me.
Today, I was supposed to be finalizing some paperwork for finishing up the estate, but her scrapbook had caught my attention and seemed to fill the moment’s desires on a winter’s day much more than legal who’s and what’s.
Within the pages, she had carefully arranged photographs of all of us, from the very beginning until the time she entered the nursing facilities over nine years ago. I could see in those pictures the house that I grew up in and the happy times we had together. There were pictures of us showing cattle, my father with his coonhounds, my brother’s first car and his first day to college. Inside the pages was a history of a family that lived from milk check to milk check, yet seemed to be the richest people in the world. On every page I found tables covered with fried chicken, vegetables, pies, homemade breads and foods fit for not just a farm family, but it was something you would think was more suited for royalty.
Every picture contained smiles, if it was not because of funny hats at Christmas, then it was for a new baby born into the family as a grandchild. Not saying we didn’t have our share of bad times, which we did, but this book recorded the memories that reminded one of what was right.
As I turned the pages, I often saw photographs of my mother in the kitchen. In just about every one of those pictures she was wearing an apron. She used it as a potholder to take food out of the oven. It would also become a dishtowel whenever one was not handy. But, I do admit, mama’s apron was a pretty safe place when the world seemed to be coming at you a little too fast. There are times now that I wish I had an apron or two to hide behind.
One set of pictures that really caught my attention was of my parents, individually, with my brother and sister at their sides. They had the date of April 15, 1948 on them. My father was all dressed up in a pinstriped suit and my mother was also in her Sunday’s best with a very large hat. This may have been Easter, but the thing that really stood out to me was the fact that here were family pictures made the year that I was born. I showed up in October of 1948, and these pictures were at a time when the four of them were there and I wasn’t. The thing that hit home that cold icy day was here I am now and they aren’t.
Life is like that photo album. We go along year to year, recording the things that are required of us, but never fully realizing that someday it all will change.
As I thumbed through the pages and removed the photographs to check dates on their backs, one thing stood out in my thoughts that caused me to smile. As I picked up a black and white photograph of our family made in 1959, I said to myself, “I sure am glad Mama never heard of Facebook because I probably wouldn’t be here looking at these pictures.”
I do wonder what the future of photos for many families will be. Will Uncle Harry be lost on the Cloud? Will Aunt Sue be forever imprisoned in that stack of memory cards placed in the back of her niece’s sock drawer? Right now there are VHS tapes full of family memories that are falling apart and can never be re-captured, along with photos of people unable to be viewed any longer because the camera that took the pictures does not have a means to process the film.
One cold day in February I had a chance to review my past and enjoy some memories that caused me to think. We make millions of iPhone pictures everyday, but I wonder if in six generations will anyone be able to see what those pictures looked like? Think about it.
Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org