Archive for Thursday, May 13, 2010

Photo acts as reminder to live in the moment

May 13, 2010

An old black-and-white photo hangs above my desk. The image has faded some over time, but its focus is sharp and you can still see it plainly. The copy I have is obviously a contact print of the old negative; you can see the photographer’s writing along the edge. This one was probably one of the proofs; the others, the “good” ones, if you will, probably would have been given to relatives and friends.

The photo shows a young family: A mother and father looking at the photographer, who must have been standing just beside his camera. The father is wearing a suit and tie; obviously, having a family picture taken was a momentous enough occasion to dress up. Though the image is black and white, you can tell the father has a ruddy complexion from working out of doors.

The woman smiles demurely, almost shyly, at the photographer. On her lap a baby, just a few months old, leans back and beams a toothless, goofy grin; probably the photographer jumped out from behind the camera and said, “boo!” or something like that to get a reaction.

The couple, turned out in their Sunday best, were my parents, and of course I was the baby. I think I was probably 6 months old when we posed for that photo. I pulled it out of its frame the other day and looked at the back, but there’s no clue to when it was taken. But it must have been in the late summer or early fall of 1942, not too long before my father went off to war. I don’t know this for a fact, but it’s very possible that we sat for that photo because he was soon to leave.

There is, of course, no hint of impending tragedy in that fading gelatin-silver image. It shows a happy time, but happiness can be a transitory, ephemeral thing, and that happiness didn’t last as long for us as we no doubt hoped.

As it turned out, that photo recorded one of the last of the happy times we three were to enjoy as a family. Sometime after it was taken, my father went away to the war, never to return; he died in September 1943 in North Africa, and is buried there.

I don’t mean to suggest that my father’s death cast a pall over our lives. It didn’t. I know my mother never completely stopped grieving for him, although she remarried, had other children, and had, so far as we could tell, a fulfilling life, taking pleasure in her children and grandchildren.

As a child I really had no memory of my father; my mother and other family members, I knew, missed him terribly, often spoke fondly of him, but we went on with our lives. For my part, I had what seems to have been, looking back, a happy childhood, with I suppose the normal amount of mishaps and frustrations.

I keep the photo around because it’s a family keepsake, of course, but I think it serves another purpose as well. As I think about it, it seems to say to me to live in the moment, to enjoy life as much as you can while you can, because there’s no telling how long it will last. I think that’s probably pretty good advice.

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