Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Faded Photographs

By Cappy Hall Rearick

Sitting cross legged on the floor, I am surrounded by a lifetime of people: My grandparents, now gone up to that Southern Baptist Revival in the sky, aunts, uncles, even ex-husbands. I look across the cardboard box full of photos at my grandson, Burns, who is plundering through the years along with me. He glances up from time to time to ask, “Now who is this person?” or “Mammy! That is not you!” before keeling over in a fit of giggles.

“Well, don’t laugh too hard, you little twit. Here you are the day you were born.” I stick the picture under his nose and he lets out a howl of denial, refusing to claim any connection. “I never looked like that in my life!”

I glance at it again and laugh. “My mistake, Sweetie. I should have recognized that picture of Winston Churchill.”

“Winston who?”

My eyes roll heavenward as I mutter something about history not being taught nowadays. Nine years old and he doesn’t know who Sir Winston is?

I delve into the box until I find another picture of Burns. This time he has chocolate icing all over his face because his parents thought he should have an entire cake to eat all by himself on his first birthday. They knew he would just play in it and he didn’t disappoint. In went the hands, out came the hands, down went the face. Just like a puppy.

“No way!” He is screaming with laughter.

“Way!” I reply. “You’re the only kid on the planet who doesn’t like chocolate, right? Pigging out on chocolate will always do that to you unless you’re a woman.”

He’s busy fishing around for more shots of me with bouffant hair or Babe strutting his stuff in a North Carolina State football uniform. He spies a school picture of his dad with horn rimmed glasses and a smarmy smile.

“Look at this geek!” More laughter.

I look at it and shake my head. My oldest son was indeed a bookworm, but never a geek. He wore glasses and battled zits until he hit his growth spurt and said goodbye to baby fat. That’s when the Three C’s kicked in. Contact lens, Clearasil and Connie, all in the same year.

“Who’s this guy?” Burns wants to know.

I study it for a little bit before recognizing the small boy grinning with no front teeth. “That’s my cousin Allan. He used to love looking at old photos when he came to my mother’s house. He was such a sweet boy. Every time he’d look at a photograph, he’d start bawling. Even if he didn’t know the person in the picture, he’d still tune up and cry.”

Burns looks up at me and cocks his head. “Mammy! You’re telling me a tall tale.”

“No, I’m not. It’s the honest truth.”

“He cried every time? Why’d he do that?”

“Nobody could figure it out. I guess the pictures must have made him feel nostalgic; maybe a little bit sad. He may have felt lonesome because he wasn’t in most of them. They were all taken long before he was born.”

I start to laugh, remembering. “Lord, we were so awful to Allan. We’d get him to look at pictures just to make him cry!”

The boy seated across from me on the floor is quietly gazing at another photo of his daddy and my youngest son, taken back in the sixties. I keep rooting around in the box until I realize the child is no longer laughing out loud.

“Burns? You okay, Sweetie?”

He is staring hard at the picture in his hands. Carefully, he puts it down and looks up just in time for me to see the first tear as it begins to spread over his freckled cheek.
“Aw, Sweetie, what’s the matter?” I reach across the box to wipe away his tear with my thumb.
“I understand why your cousin cried when he looked at pictures, Mammy.”

“You do?”

He nods his thick head of wavy red hair. “Old pictures kinda make me want to cry, too.”
I smile because I am a grandmother and that particular chapter was fully covered in the “How To Be A Granny” instruction book, the one that came stapled to the bottoms of all my grandchildren as they emerged from the womb.

Quickly, I get up off the floor and walk to the stairway landing.

“Babe! Can you come up here and bring the camera with you?”

He mumbles, “This better be good.”

By the time Babe gets upstairs, Burns and I are back down on the floor, sorting through the box again. I put my arms around this dear child and kiss him and hug him until he begs for mercy and at that moment, Babe snaps the picture.

Maybe years from now another little boy will look at it, tear up and say, “Old photos always make me want to cry.”