Lady Jane and I have quite a bit of fun with photos, trying to identify a trip we’ve taken in alternating rounds of five photos pulled out of a zippered bag that I’ve loaded with the many hard-copy photos that fill my drawers. Occasionally, mixed in with the photos I’ll grab to put in the bag before heading over to Mercer County to see my gal, there will be some from so very long ago, back in a world young people wouldn’t recognize, a world without cell phones or iPads, when people actually took photos with cameras.
And, it’s those from so long ago that have the ability to pull at my heartstrings. One tugged at them really hard recently, one snapped in the living room of my first house on West Wayne Street. There I am in the photo, lying on the floor and wrapped in a colorful blanket with my head propped on a couch pillow I often pulled off.
With my older daughter, Shannon, resting her head on my right shoulder, little sis, Katie, is on my left side gazing up at the camera with wide eyes and open mouth. If you’re wondering about my use of present-tense verbs to describe the photo snapped around 1980, I’ll remind you that, like all artistic manifestations, a photo’s image is timeless.
When Jane first pulled the photo out of the bag during a recent playing of our photo game, we, of course, instantly disqualified it as a non-travel image. Later that day, once I arrived home, I took another look at that photo at the kitchen table, realizing at the same time what sentimental risks I was taking as an older parent looking at a photo of my baby girls when they were indeed baby girls.
Studying the photo, I judged Shannon to be perhaps 5 and Katie three years younger. I then tried to recall the circumstances of the photo. I’m thinking it was perhaps a Saturday morning, and the thickness of the blanket suggests it was in the winter. Another clue is little Shannon’s white sweater with red-and-black horizontal stripes and matching red stretch pants and heavy socks.
As for Katie, well, shall we say, she’s attired a bit more casually. While her horizontally striped top does have a predominant red in the stripes, which certainly matched her thick red socks, on the bottom half, she’s sporting only a diaper.
On the living room carpet, the photo shows some small dresses, far too small for either of my babies. No, the small garments belonged to Barbie dolls. As soon as I saw this detail in the photo, memories welled up along with some moisture in the corners of my eyes, memories of the hours my little ladies spent dressing those Barbies and jabbering both to each other as well as to the dolls as they play-acted their scenarios as to where Barbie was going and why she needed a certain casual look rather than an evening dress.
And, I also remembered certain nocturnal moments of getting up in the middle of the night to get a glass of water and stepping barefooted on a Barbie shoe.
I sat at my kitchen table in a house that hasn’t seen daily activity of a family in more years than I care to count and pulled out my cell phone and snapped a photo of that long-ago image and sent it to Shannon and Katie, who were probably in their own homes in Columbus when they received the texted photo. Actually, I’ve done this with several other photos I’ve come across from their childhoods.
The longer I looked at that photo and tried to reach back some four decades and capture the contentment and happiness I must have felt that day with my two little pals each within hugging distance, the more the corners of my eyes filled.
I didn’t allow myself more than a minute or two of the palpable sadness I feel whenever I look too long at photos of my kiddos when their last name was Grindrod rather than Hull and Strayer. After all, there’s no sense lamenting for too long the natural progression of time.
The next time I was in Columbus working, I took the Hulls and the Strayers out to dinner at their favorite Chinese restaurant, Sesame Sea Asian Bistro, in Dublin. It was Shannon who brought up the photo I’d sent. We laughed as we asked Katie what she thinks may have happened to her pants that day. Shannon then asked why I send such old photos.
I looked at her before depositing another delicious forkful of chicken and broccoli with a bit of a lump in my throat and said, “Because, my dear, while I’m so immensely proud of who you and your sister have become, I also don’t want you ever to forget who you once were and what you meant to me.”
No doubt, with each step further down life’s road, a road that sadly grows shorter with each passing day, life is indeed a sentimental journey.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.