Archive for Thursday, March 5, 2009

Small photograph opens up big questions about yesteryear

March 5, 2009

On a day when the snow fell swirling like filaments inside a snow globe, I sat hunkered down over a small, black-and- white photograph. The photograph belongs to a high school classmate of mine; we have been trying to identify people in the picture.

The photograph itself was taken in warm weather — girls in Mary Jane-strapped shoes with white anklets, skirts and blouses and boys in short-sleeved shirts and long pants and Oxfords. There are over 50 youngsters from grade school to high school on the steps of the old high school, accompanied by seven or eight adults, all gathered ceremoniously on the steps, hands folded primly at their well-groomed sides or behind their backs.

Who, we wondered, were these folks. As we poured over the photograph, at one point with the aid of a magnifying glass, we began to make out the faces of youngsters we had grown up with and had attended Sunday school or vacation Bible school with. That much we could determine.

At the far right corner was a pastor who had served the local Methodist Church on at least three different occasions during my growing-up years. Whether this was the Sunday school or vacation Bible school we could not determine. What we could make out were familiar faces — adults as well as youngsters.

We could recognize the pastor, my classmate’s sisters, my tousled-headed brother, curls dipping over his forehead, mothers of youngsters in the picture who were either Sunday school teachers, chaperones or Bible school helpers. As we perused the photograph, other faces became recognizable and their names came floating back: Lillian, Sunny Elaine, Connie, Carol, Juanita, Jenny Hill, Pat Stewart, Dorothy, Eddy Lynn, Ms. Maupin and others.

We remembered, with increasing clarity, stories and events, though we could not recall the event in this specific photograph, other than to say it was a gaggle of youngsters, ranging in age from grade school to high school, standing in front of the old high school on a warm summer day looking as though there was no place they would rather be and no group with whom they would rather be.

It is a moment captured splendidly in time and space, one that beckons memory and recollection back to a time when life was solid and full of expectation. If we could draw a perpendicular line across time and space, I would like to know where these people went, where life took them, what gains and losses life might have held for them. I would want to know what influence that summer may have had for the direction each one’s life may have taken.

We know that life events shape our futures, just as the people in our lives lend a direction and influence in who we become and what we do. It’s all here in a photograph.

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