Sunday, June 27, 2010

Mama, put down that camera.

Back from the baseball game, where east met west as far as Cardinal fans are concerned and we polished off a splendid weekend with Laura and Mark, sweating it out near the Cardinal dugout. Now they are home on Pernod and we are watching the late version of Fox News Sunday on Spruce.
While here, we watching Aaron's ball game on Friday, ate burgers and ice cream in the summer dusk while the little kids filled the wading pool with sand and grass. We played a fairly competent and completely pleasant nine holes at the Tarkio Golf course and cooled off with late lunch at the Sanctuary and the Cards/Royals game. We relaxed and conversed for extended spells on the front porch; we strolled the garden; we spent Saturday evening at the Harms' enjoying a repast from the Range Cafe' cookbook. Mark hit the wiffleball to Gabe and Aaron; Laura caught lightening bugs for the kids to not hold.
I love the winter holidays; don't get me wrong. But summertime is less intense, less compressed, more flexible, more laissez faire. We can't all get together all the time, but, heh, summer is long and we'll all get together Sometime before school and harvest begins and the days shorten.
I went into the guest room to change the sheets for the next visitor and stopped at each picture on the wall. The guest room at our house is the wedding picture room; or the ancestor room, I guess. Here are the lovely 5x7 s of Lee and Annie in their wedding day smiles and finery and flowers. Here is the picture from Ben's wedding day of the two girls and their brother in his tux. There are snapshots blown up to 5x7 from summers past: Ann and her dad at the Nebraska Art museum, looking contemplative and composed in between basketball games. Ben in the village of Eureka Springs looking uncomfortable in the stage between little and big boy. Lee that same summer posing near an elegant Art Nouveau cutout. Matt, Ann, Lee, Ben in silly hats 4th of July 2000. Ben and little Alissa in a John Deere tractor.
Then there are older photos. My mother's portrait from her wedding day, a softly lit eggshell finished black and white in a white gilt frame. She looks young and lovely, gazing calmly somewhere away from the photographer. That was 55 years ago now, but she looked just that young to me well up to the time I got married. Millie and Charlie's wedding picture is up there. Millie looks more serious than I know she is; perhaps because she is perched on heels? Charlie is grinning....well, like the cat that swallowed a canary. I know that look: its the same smile Blake wore after our wedding day. Perhaps Charlie is pinching his new wife? That's what his son did during the wedding pictures. Our wedding picture is NOT displayed; we truly do look young and foolish in all our pictures. But that was the 70s: the hair, the tuxes, the shoes are reason enough to leave us in our photo album in the closet.
Back, back we go around the walls. Next to Millie and Charlie are my Granny and Grandpa. Is the picture taken in a studio? The backdrop looks like a church window, but it could easily be a theater backdrop. There's Grandpa, clear eyed and serious and sans the glasses I remember. Next to him, in a giant coincidence, is Ryan's grandpa! Both young men are thin and suited. I don't know who Ryan resembles in his family, but I think I see Grandpa Harms' nose in this generation. Ryan's grandpa was my grandpa's best man. Granny is wearing heels, I know, because she tops Grandpa's shoulder in her broad brimmed floppy filmy hat. She has a giant bouquet and a lovely tiered, ruffled skirt. She isn't smiling, either, but I think she looks romantic and even a little mysterious on purpose. I believe she would play this important role with a firm idea of how it should appear. One of her sisters is matron of honor and a host of nieces and nephews hold baskets in front. Granny is the youngest daughter and her sisters already have kids. The little girls have toothpick legs and short dresses, anklet socks and white shoes. Granny's sister is beautiful, but most astonishing to me is her spitting image resemblance to my aunt Anne.
If Anne looks like the Becks, I believe my grandpa dropped not far from his mother's tree. I have a tin type of Katarina as a young woman. I know little about her and have no photos of that great grandfather. She is in black and white, needless to say, but I picture her with the reddish blond hair her son also had as a young man. In one corner, by themselves, are Granny's parents on the occasion of an important wedding anniversary. My father's Grandpa Beck was a substantial citizen in Jefferson City and the room in the picture displays middle class status. Wide white baseboard and lace sheers, drapes with pom pom trim and a floor vase of carnations. Grandma Beck is stout, perched on her seat with a little half smile. The mate of that chair, or that very chair, sits next to the cedar chest in the guest room. The finish is no longer shiny but the scratchy indestructible chenille upholstery is intact. I remember several of these chairs in the basement family room at Granny and Grandpa's along with an over stuffed gray chenille sofa. I wonder if the others were dispersed among the family, or if, as I suspect, the turned legs and broad seat were finally unable to support various rowdy family members.
My Grandpa and Grandma Froerer are displayed in the corner beyond the window. They are young in these photos my mother has given me, far away in time from my memories. Grandpa wears a jaunty cap and owlish spectacles as he perches in gloves and a short coat on the railing of a gazebo somewhere. In my picture frame, Grandma smiles widely on the steps of a house somewhere in summertime. She wears a dainty flowered frock; her hair is dark and waved and she cradles a huge angel's trumpet plant on her lap. I think I see a salt and pepper set and a coffee pot in the window of what might be a screened porch? It is cold in the other picture but she looks just as happy in her cloche, stockings and short wrap coat. These pictures are precious to me; they are posed, but candid, and I can build a story around the surroundings. These photos are not recording a formal event for family history; they are capturing an instant of daily life.
My folks have photo albums galore dating from our childhood back through their years in Chicago. They have some of Granny and Grandpa's black and whites too, and I've seen the albums my Grandma kept of my mom and her brother. There is a photo of a series of Christmas trees, each year different from the year previous by the toy under the tree and the height of the child with the toy. I'd love to frame those pictures! Two studio shots of my mom as a young girl and her brother as a little boy used to hang over my grandparents' beds. Granny kept a whole collage of photos of her family in the hallway. Some were color; some not. Some were studio portraits; some Polaroids. I never tired of looking at these and would love to tell her I am trying to duplicate her family wall here at Spruce.
But a picture does not always tell a story. My laughing grandma was not always so happy. My solemn granny was nearly always smiling. And my ancestors are silent except for snippets and tales told at random times.
That's why I write. For the days in the future when some curious child opens a closet full of old albums and wants to know something about who, when, and why. Maybe that child's mommy, or grandma or grandpa will open another drawer and pull out of some papers and say....that was your great.......and this is what it was like then....

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