Monday, November 24, 2014

A treasure of old photographs ~ my column this week

I stumbled upon a cache of old photos of Jilda’s family this week. She’d almost broken a hip trying to get sweaters out of the depths of my closet. From the darkness, I could hear muffled curses and unkind words about the way I stored my winter clothing.
I’d be the first to admit my storage methodology is a bit unorthodox and hard for others to grasp, but it works for me.
After the sermon, I started packing away all my summer things and fetching the sweats, sweaters and long johns from the bowels of my closet. In the back corner, I found a large plastic storage box the size of a footlocker.
It was filled with things her mother had kept for almost a century. We’d found it in the back of her closet while cleaning out her house after she passed away.
Once I had it out in the open, I poked it a few times with the broom handle to make sure no spiders or wintering mice hopped out.
Popping the plastic lid, I found old cards, letters, photographs, and yellowed newspaper clippings as fragile as a butterfly wing.
Jilda and I started dating when she was barely 16, so I attended holidays, funerals, family reunions and vacations. I took many pictures through the years. But these pictures predated me, and they showed a part of their lives that I’d never seen.
A rolled picture that resembled a scroll stood in one corner. It was about 12 inches tall, but about three-feet wide. I had to put a book on one end to weigh it down, and gently unroll the picture with the tips of my fingers.
The photograph was taken during the early days of WWII when her dad Sharky served as an Army medic. There were 112 soldiers posing in rows for the camera.
Normally with that many men, the photographer would have to back up so far that the faces in the picture would be unrecognizable.
But somehow, the photographer used a lens that allowed him to get close enough that every face was clear. I guess that’s why the picture was so wide.
Standing in the third row in his kakis with his garrison cap tilted to one side, was the young Sharky Phillips looking pensively at the camera. I couldn’t believe I’d never seen that photograph.
Another older picture was of Jilda’s mom Ruby standing outside in a dress and hat, holding her firstborn child Herbert. She was 15 years old at the time. The picture looked as if it could have appeared in Vogue magazine.
Jilda heard me say “Wow!” as I looked at it for the first time. She said, “Mama was so afraid that someone would steal her beautiful baby, that she pinned him to her breast pocket with a diaper pin whenever she took him anywhere.”
There was another picture of Jilda's mom in her Captain Anderson waitress uniform that was taken in 1942 when Sharky was in training at Kendall Air force base.
We both looked at the photographs for a long time. I wish I knew the stories behind all the pictures, but I’d never seen them before, and now it is too late to ask.
Old photographs add richness to the story of our families, and at the risk of sounding like a cliché, they add color to the tapestry of our lives.
I made a decision right then to scan all these one-of-a-kind images.
It would be a shame not to share them with others in our family so they can be passed down to the generations that follow.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A story behind every photograph

The paper in which my column runs usually puts the lead paragraphs along with a picture of me on the front of the Lifestyle section of the paper. The second half of the column usually jumps to a page inside the section.

Today, the front page had the column as usual, but somehow they didn't include the last half of it. My phone number is listed in the book, and it rang off the hook today. 

When I pointed out to the folks that the entire column was online and that I'd posted it on Facebook, most of them said, "Well, I'M NOT ON THE INTERNET!!!!" 

One demographic that my column tends to resonate with are older folks who grew up hard. Many of them survived the Great Depression, and although I came alone much later, the circumstances around my early life were not that different than many of them, so they identify with many of my topics.

As I mentioned late last week in this blog, the column is about coming across a cache of old photographs. I'll post it tomorrow night, but in the story I describe the picture below which is of Jilda's mom.

She's barely 15 and holding her first child, and there is a story behind this photograph. 

Be sure and come back on Monday night to read it.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Patient creatures

Dogs are patient creatures. They'll sit and wait for hours. Today I did yard yoga.  Caillou walked out with me to supervise.

He lay with his head on his paws while I moved slowly through my routine. It seems he's never bored, and rarely interrupts me when I'm doing my stretches.

Though meditation is hard for him to witness. Anyone lying on the ground obviously needs assistance.  

Today, while he didn't actually touch me, he was so close I could feel his breath on my face. He was so close, all I could see was his nose. 

I think he was trying to decided if I needed mouth to mouth. I'm glad he decided to wait until I opened my eyes.

Friday, November 21, 2014

And while we're on the subject of beaches

I'm not a world traveler like my blog buddy Jack, but we've been to a beach or two. I can say without a moment's hesitation, I've never met a beach I didn't like.

We've been in the Florida Keys, and points all along the gulf coast. We've been as far north a Boston, and as far west as California.

When visiting our friend Ken in Grand Rapids, Michigan, spent a weekend on Lake Michigan at Benton Harbor which was a treat.

I've been to Panama's Atlantic and Pacific shores, and we walked on beaches in Ireland. They all are multi-sensory intoxication.

I have a basket of seashells on the vanity in my bathroom that we've picked up on the beaches we've visited through the years.

This picture popped up in my Memoir app. It was taken at Gulf Shores several years ago. I thought it was serendipity that it showed up this evening.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thinking about the beach

Looking back at images from the past is interesting. This is a picture of me taken in the summer of 1969. Jilda's family had gone to the beach for the week and I was working at night while going to college. I sort of invited myself to go at the same time.

I headed out Friday afternoon with my cousin Tommy. I had a 1965 Impala SS at the time. It was fire engine red with an engine so powerful, it rattled the windows of nearby houses. We got a room at a hotel down the beach from where Jilda's family was staying.

I was as thin as a refugee when Jilda snapped this photo with her Brownie Instamatic. The color is washed out in this picture, but the gulf water was green as liquid jade. 

Even now as I close my eyes, I can smell the salty surf and hear seagulls squawking as they patrolled the sand seeking crabs and small fish on the shore.

It was before I understood the importance of sunscreen so hours after this picture was taken, I was red as firebrick. My cousin Tommy called me lobster-boy for the rest of the summer.

During the early years of our marriage we spent most every vacation at the beach because it was some place we could go that didn't cost an arm and a leg.

These days we only go once or twice a year.

We plan to go for my birthday in a few months and I'm looking forward to time on the water. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Autumn walk

Last night the temps dipped to 17 degrees which is frosty in this part of the country. Tiny ice crystal formations settled around the bottom edges of the great room glass at the front of our house which faces north.

Even though the sun stood tall in a cloudless sky today, the wind out of the west would cut you like a scythe.

This afternoon I walked with the howling wind and screaming knees. Even when Arthur is kicking my tail, I try to get my exercise in. Setting my timer for 25 minutes, I set out.

When I got to the apple trees, there were about a dozen apples the size of softballs lying on the ground. They'd been basking in the autumn sun at the top of the apple tree, just out of reach of ladders and lifts. But the cold weather brought them to earth.

As I walked past today, I scooped one up, brushed it vigorously on my pant leg as if I were shining it for my favorite teacher.

When I sank my teeth into this apple, I stopped in my tracks and let the juice trickle down my chin as I chewed. It was, without question, the best apple I've ever put into my mouth.

I picked up several more apples and stuffed them into my pockets, knowing that Jilda would make something amazing with them when she got home.

I snapped a photo as I rounded the barn. It's just another example of light, shadow, and too many shades of color to name.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Old photographs

One of my accomplishments this week was cleaning out my closet. Back in the corner where only spiders and wintering mice fear to tread, I found a plastic storage box as big as a footlocker.

Inside the box was a cache of old photographs that belonged to Jilda's mom. We found it store in the back of her closet after she died.

Jilda and I started dating when she was only 16, so I witnessed much of her life and that of her family, but some of these pictures I'd never seen.

I decided to scan these and share them with family, but as I worked Jilda would comment on her memory of the photographs.

The experience was moving. In fact, it's the subject of the column that will appear in Sunday's paper.

I know it's a cliche, but I'll say it once more: Old photographs are what add color to the tapestry of our lives.

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