I’ve just been looking at a picture that Mom took of Paul and me years ago on our farm in Todd County, Kentucky. It’s one of the most evocative of the few surviving pictures of our youth.
Paul was probably eleven, maybe twelve and I would have been seven or eight. We’re both wearing short sleeve shirts and long pants, both wearing school/dress shoes. We’re having a game of catch in the yard. Gauging by the direction and length of our shadows, this might have been taken right before we left to go to church on a Sunday morning. We were both pretty avid about baseball and took advantage of any break between school, farm duties, and church.
Both of us have the standard burr haircuts that Dad gave us every two or three weeks. Paul is leaning forward in the first stage of his windup with the ball in his glove. I’m crouched in a catcher’s position, glove at the ready for the pitch. I’m pretty sure this was staged a bit for the picture: we’re only fifteen feet or so from each other. No way was I going to set up to have Paul throwing a baseball at me from that close!
From the looks of the yard, this particular moment took place while the new house was being built or soon after. Soon after my then thirteen-year-old sister was severely burned while putting wood in the bedroom fireplace, the antebellum brick house was torn down. The new one had electric wall heaters in all the bedrooms.
The ground is bare and rough and there are rocks and blocks and other similar debris pushed up in the background. If you look hard and know what you’re looking for, you can see a short section of the gravel road in the background and a small white blur that is the Stokes’ house. A hay field runs out from the yard, with a couple of big trees around a tiny pond. You can’t see the pond but I know it was there.
Also, there were the fencerows and woods that lined the gravel road after it turned past the Stokes’ place. It’s a glimpse into the setting of our lives and times.
There are so many memories and feelings stirred by this picture that I can only sift through them by layers. So many stories behind the camera and what cannot be seen. So many emotions, some of them long unspoken, and some that may never be spoken.
Two brothers. Four other siblings. Two parents. Friends and neighbors. Aunts and uncles and cousins who came once or twice a year or once in a blue moon. Or never.
I may be about to begin an extended journey through those ancient memories. Or maybe just take a quick side trip through some selective moments. Whatever it might be or become, I think it will be worth my while.
Time taken for remembering the good things in our lives, for deliberately treasuring simple moments, for understanding more deeply the ways we have become who we are, is usually time well spent. Anything that makes us more appreciative and more expressive in the relationships we value is a good thing.