Mark Ballard

Visiting with our past

By MARK BALLARD - Special to The Telegraph

Have you ever seen something that immediately catapulted you back to a long-ago place and time? The power of a visual image is incredible.

Last weekend I visited my sister Denise, who lives in another state. Although I talk with her almost daily, I don’t get to see her in person very often. Besides being my big sister, she is my only direct link to our parents, which makes our bond even more special.

During my visit, Denise took me on a tour of her house, pointing out some of the changes she had made since my last visit. Like any proud sister, she had memorabilia of our growing-up years on just about every wall, shelf and side table. Her house reminded me of a “this is your life” gallery. Room by room I relived my past.

“Do you remember this painting? It was under a bed somewhere and you gave it to me,” Denise said, pointing to a framed painting hanging on a wall in her dining room. It was a watercolor of a green-colored glass vase filled with peonies. It certainly wasn’t my best work and I could barely remember painting it.

“Not too bad,” I told Denise laughingly, “especially for a child!”

We continued our tour in the living room. In that room, Denise chose to showcase the finest and most treasured memories. Held within a gold frame was a portrait I painted of Denise the year she graduated from high school. Looking at the portrait, my sister’s younger eyes stared back at me.

Gazing into them, I could almost see the hallways and smell the school we attended. I also had painted a self-portrait at my graduation. For many years, they hung side-by-side in Mother and Daddy’s living room until their deaths. When we took them down, their place was still visibly marked where time had faded the wall color around them.

The piano we both learned to play as children served as a mahogany shrine for a host of photos from various parts of our lives. My eyes scanned the decades in a matter of seconds. From baby to wedding photos, each one stood proudly like rows of memories to remind us of the journey we have traveled. Some of our family members’ journeys already had ended, but they happily remained in the photos to visit with us.

We past a basket filled with ceramic golden delicious apples that time had not allowed to spoil or rot. I stopped and picked one up. I sculpted them out of clay when I was in college.

“I can’t believe you still have these!” I exclaimed. My sister motioned for me to follow her to the master bedroom. “Wait until you see this,” she said.

From the depths of a closet, she pulled out another of my sculptures I hadn’t seen in more than 30 years. It was a safari hat I had created from clay as one of my art projects. It was life-sized but much too heavy to wear. It was exactly the same as it was when I turned it in for a grade.

“I got an A on this,” I told Denise, allowing the little brother in me to come out and play. “I know, I know!” she said with a smirk on her face.

While Denise was tucking it back in its place for safe keeping, I started laughing. “What are you laughing at?” she asked.

“I was remembering what you always used to say when people constantly asked you if you were talented like your brother,” I said laughing uncontrollably. “Do you remember?”

“Of course I do!” Denise muttered between laughs. “I told them, ‘No! I just paved the way for you to come!’ ”

The final destination on our tour meant the most to me. On the walls within that room hung two paintings I did in my teens. They now hang on different walls in another house, but I was immediately transported back to the small, cozy den in the home in which we grew up. For as long as I could remember, these seascapes had been a part of every scenario that happened in the room our family gathered in the most. I paused to soak in all the time that had passed.

I walked up to one of them for a closer look. It was of a lighthouse at the rocky edge of the sea. I couldn’t have been more than 15 years old when I painted it. Mother always loved it. My eyes began to tear up. Partly because of all the memories it represented, but mostly for the loss of a very different time and place.

Our tour was complete. I was grateful my sister had kept all these wonderful treasures and shared them with me. It is a priceless gift to have things from our past that allow us to go back in time for a visit -- even if it is just for a short one.

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your 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.