I looked intensely into the eyes of strangers in my stack of old black and white photos hoping to read the minds of the subjects. These were photographs of people long gone. Long gone before I was born, heck, some had been gone before my parents were even born. Yet here was proof that they had once lived, had breathed, and had at one time stood or sat in front of a camera to preserve their images. These strangers were related to me, without their existence I wouldn’t be here, or at the least would be a very different person.
My Aunt Dot had given the pictures to me, when she had downsized her possessions to move to a retirement center because I was presently diving into the family history, trying to lengthen the family tree. I had started off with a seed, then a trunk, now I had a few branches. The search had begun because my dad wanted to find out about his great grandfather John, a civil war veteran who had fought for the north and died in 1876. Though we don’t have a picture of him Dad had had his sword once. I remember it used to be kept in the hall closet, now it’s in my brother’s possession. However, I have the picture of my great great granddad John’s, wife, Abigail, who died in 1910. Dad and I had left Texas in the late 1990’s for a week and gone to their burial site in New England. Though the graveyard was well kept, Dad had surmised that no one had visited these particular relatives’ graves in decades. Some of their adult children were buried near them in unmarked graves because of financial limitations. How sad. Once gone it’s not long before you’re forgotten. I was actually surprised the cemetery was still alive, excuse the pun. I had expected it to be some frowzy plot off the freeway run over with weeds and wild trees reserved for civil war burials but it was a tidy, growing necropolis. It had taken quite a bit of time to locate dear departed Grandparents John and Abigal Pierce and family.
I looked again into the eyes of my great grandmother, Estelle. I had some of her jewelry given to me by my aunt. I had worn one of her simple diamnond rings when dad and I had gone cemetery hopping up north. She was buried near her husband, Willard Pierce, , who my dad was named after, son of the afore mentioned John and some other relatives I had never meant but whose pictures were part of my acquired stack of photos. It was really erie to see my very much alive dad standing next to a tombstone with his name on it and date of death in 1935. Dad had hinted I take grandma Estelle’s diamond ring and bury it in the top soil over her grave so she could have it back. I ignored him as though he hadn’t uttered a word hoping he had been joking, but not convinced that was the case.
Then there was the picture of of a man I knew as—get ready for this—my grandma Pierce’s mother’s husband’s father, or great great grand daddy Thompson. It was an old faded photo taken in Belfast Ireland of a man wearing a leprachaun styled hat, a fringe of hair (that I imagined was red) outlining his jaw, long sideburns and a very serious expression as though smiling would hurt more than child birth. The back of the photo discloses the name and address of the studio that captured his image on paper, or cardboard or whatever. I googled them to see if I could order more copies but they no longer exist. Imagine that. Business must not have been very good.
The reason I had gathered my dearly but not recently departed family of strangers together on this day was so I could take them to the post office’s coping machine to reproduce them for my cousin, who I’ve never met face to face but have shared many phone calls comparing our geneological reseach efforts.
Once inside the post office I was badly shaken when I discovered Grand Daddy Thompson wasn’t with us anymore,(yes I know he’s been dead for decades, I mean his picture was gone!) I retraced my steps, several times, in my search for him. I even asked the postal workers , a few hours into the search, if he had come into their custody some how by a good samaritan who might have found him lying around the parking lot, but no such luck. I had lost Great, Great grand daddy Thompson. After years and I do mean years of being safely kept in the family archives he was now a missing person, er, a missing flat cardboard representation anyway . I only had my unreliable memory to remember him by and God only knew how long that would last.
I punished myself emotionally to the point of physical illness, over and over again for having been so undependable, afraid to ever face my aunt again. My Aunt Dot, by the way was now in the company of Grandmas Estelle and Abigail, and grandpas John and Thompson , but as formidable as she was in life I still feared her reaction in the hereafter. Was she sitting next to Great, Great Grand Daddy shaking her head and tsking me, saying “I know I should have know better, She’d loose her head if it wasn’t attached?” I couldn’t even bring myself to disclose the truth to my father for dread of seeing the disappointment in his eyes.
I emphatically believe in hauntings now because I was haunted for months with unprofitable notions on where the picture might have slipped, like for example into some odd crevice, or under some piece of furniture, or stuck behind one of the other pictures waiting to pop up and yell BOO.
Months later after I reconciled myself to the obvious, Grand Daddy Thompson was MIA, I had to make another rare stop at the post office, my first visit since my lamentable loss. Standing in line waiting to get to the service desk I occupied myself with mindless daydreaming to divert memories of my deplorable ineptitude preserving the family’s memorabilia given to me in sacred trust.
I looked at the line still ahead of me, at the clerks at work at the desk, and then my eyes drifted upwards to the shelves on the wall behind the workers. Without warning my right arm shot up, my index finger pointed out stiff and straight and a bellow erupted from my lips, “That’s my Grand Daddy Thompson!”
I stood spell bound for a second hoping no one had noticed me. Not realistic, no way in hell had that eruption slipped by unnoticed, (excuse my language but that phrase captures the moment better than anything). Transactions halted while everyone present in the range of my vocalization stopped chattering and centered their attention on me, some even pulled young children closer for fear i might be dangerous. I slowly lowered my arm and tried to look just as curious as they were about who had screamed out like that. Nope. They knew it had been me.
Taking a deep breath and trying to recoup some dignity I explained that I had been looking for that picture for months. I was waved on to the head of the line where one of the clerks explained that an old lady had found the picture lying in the parking lot months ago on her way back to her car. When she brought it back in a week later one of the clerks remembered a panicky middle aged woman who had inquired about it so he placed it on public display hoping she (I) would return to claim it. I explained the middle aged old woman must have been my mother. Yeah, that was a flat out lie alright, since she also was with my Aunt Dot.
I was so unquestionably relieved to be reunited with Grand Daddy Thompson I forgot my business with the post office and rushed home to rejoin him with his family.
Now what was the purpose of this story? Glad you asked. It struck me that someday in the future I dream of being in another line far, far away in different dimension. A line of people, uncountable in number, now conquerors, flowing through a dozen gigantic pearl entrances all streaming towards a radiant figure greater than any super hero, sportsman or celebrity we’ve ever known, seated in an enormous throne grander than any earthly king’s that has ever lived. Another man I had been searching for, but who had actually found me when I was lost. A man whose picture I didn't possess but who I would recognize without problem. At that time I will shoot out my right arm, point my index finger and bellow, “That’s Jesus, my Lord and Savior!” without being noticed by anyone else because we’ll all be unified in our outbursts of praise and gratitude. And then, probably after fleeting millennia spent praising our Redeemer, I would hook up with the souls that had belonged to the pictures my Aunt Dot had entrusted to my care. And no, I would no longer be fearful of my Aunt’s formidableness. (I hope)
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