Ballard: Old photo a reminder of a long journey

April 13, 2014 


The young boy stared back at me with a smile emerging from behind a smirk on his face. He was looking straight at me, proudly wearing a cowboy hat and holster and holding a toy gun. I expected him to say “Mister, stick ’em up!” but he didn’t utter a word.

I paused for a moment as I smiled back at him. We were caught in somewhat of a stare-off, but I knew he would win. The boy smiling back at me was frozen in time in a photograph of me when I was only 7 years old.

I was on my knees in my art studio looking through multiple boxes of old photos. The box in front of me was tattered, torn and visibly tired from the many years of supporting the weight of the hundreds of photos. In the presence of old photographs, I always feel like I’m a student in a library where being quiet is not only requested but demanded of you.

It’s an almost holy thing for me to open a box and peek back into my past -- captured in various snapshots that tell the specific story of a certain time and place.

I realize that once the box lid is removed all the memories contained within the box will rush out like a genie escaping from the bottle that has held her captive. Most of the memories are of good times, but others capture moments that were not as good. There are photos of periods of time that bring with them sadness instead of joy.

When you open the lid you can’t control which memories come out. You can’t just look at the happy photographs, because all the photos live in the box together. When the gates of time are opened, all the memories want to come out.

I couldn’t seem to put down the photo of my younger cowboy self. I started at the top corner and slowly crept to the bottom edge trying to bring every detail in between into focus. I noticed the old, bulky television set that sat atop a small bookcase filled with books.

Many of the books looked very familiar even though I couldn’t make out any of their titles. However, I knew the bookcase well because it stayed in my parents’ home until they both passed away.

In the photo, I was wearing some hand-me-down jeans that showed signs of wear and tear long before it was fashionable to do so. I had on a green and brown paisley printed shirt that I remembered being one of my favorites. My blond hair was cut very short, probably at the hands of my mother since money was tight. Or, I understand that my sister attempted to give me a hairstyle on more than one occasion when she got her courage up to “borrow” Mother’s scissors. Either way, I thought it looked cool peeking out from under the brim of my hat pushed way back on my head.

At the very top of the photo in the white margin next to the scalloped edge was “Apr – 68.” I stared at that for a moment because I knew from the photo that it had to have been taken the year before. It had to be during the time of the year that I received gifts, and since my birthday and Christmas come at the same time, it was a fairly easy mystery to solve in spite of the fact no Christmas tree or decorations were visible in the photo.

I chuckled to myself as I remembered Mother telling me many years ago she always had to wait until she finished up the roll of film in the camera and had some extra money before she took the film be developed. As a result, many of the photos from my childhood are time delayed for a few months or sometimes a year.

As I put the photo aside, I thought about how many changes had been made in technology since then.

I reached for my iPhone to snap a photo of the “Cowboy Mark” photo -- a photo I could look at immediately to see if I liked it. This is a concept that was unheard of way back in April 1968.

I remember during some of my very first photo shoots for the newspaper, we couldn’t decide on which ones to use until they were all developed. When you are dealing with very detailed and complicated photo shoots of things I’ve baked or created, it is so much easier for all involved to simply look into the camera to decide if it is suitable. If it isn’t, all you have to do is make the changes needed at that moment and re-shoot until you are pleased with the photo. Technology is wonderful!

I’m always a little exhausted as I put the lid back on the box, placing the piles of photos into darkness until I decide I need to open it again. Going down Memory Lane takes a lot out of me. Sometimes the road is happy, fun and well lit. Other times it’s cloudy and a little dark.

But one thing is for sure, if you connected all the photos together end to end, you would see the journey of your life. This time I visited with a little cowboy. Who knows whom I’ll see next time?

More with Mark

• Mark’s cooking at the Vidalia Onion Festival on April 24 at Southeastern Technical College in Vidalia. The Vidalia Onion Cooking Show features the cooking show, tastings, vendors, door prizes and great fun. Call Jan for tickets and information, 912-293-2407.

• Check out Mark’s web site at for current projects, recipes, Mark’s T-shirts, prints and collectible porcelain plates.

• Mark is on 24 hours a day. Videos, columns and articles are featured.

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.

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