My sister and I were sitting in the living room of the old house at the beach. I had just walked through the kitchen and this weird feeling of someone’s absence came over me. I knew it was him, but had to ask her if she ever had that same feeling. “Of course,” she replied, “he was here just a few months ago and now he’s gone.”
I’m asked often why my mood at Christmas is not always upbeat or excited and this would be part of the reason. Rusty, Debbie’s son, has become part of the legacy of pictures I wrote about several years ago. He exists now in our hearts and photos found around the house. We lost him tragically in May of this year and while we wait to see him again, as found in the gospel of Christ, whose birthday we celebrate tomorrow, I thought this would be a good time to revisit that piece so, here it is.
There is a picture, with an old upright piano, family around a dining room table and pets that have come and gone. It lives in a photo album. In it are a few of the things I think about when the holidays come around. I love a picture you can hold in your hand. Something about the way it feels when it rests there in your palm. It’s as though the scene is alive in some way and those who were captured on that day, in some small way, are alive again, sitting there silent in the palm of your hand.
The feel of a hand-held picture is old, smooth, sometimes yellow with age and yet not quite as old as those whose images reside therein. One picture I love to hold was taken circa 1946-1947. This image of my people, most of them gone now, stays at my mother’s until this time of year when I bring it out and we, she and I, talk about these wonderful gifts we were given through the years.
There, still seated around a large table in the dining room of my grandfather’s house in Knoxville, Tennessee, are my grandparents, three aunts, two uncles, two cousins and my parents. They’ve been there for 65 years now, frozen in time and with lives still to live. And each one meant something special to me.
There sits Uncle Jack, newly returned from the war in the Pacific where he fought malaria and the Japanese. From him I learned a man can be tender and yet strong enough to lead and accomplish much in life. He became a respected physician in Concord, North Carolina. Uncle Melvin, whose name was never mentioned without it being a part of “Aunt Dora and Uncle Melvin,” can be seen smiling up at his Dora. They were inseparable throughout life, she was the homemaker and he worked for the TVA in Sevierville, when going to work was considered a privilege. To my knowledge, he never missed a day.
The other two aunts lived there at the big house on Freemason Street we all called home for many years. One was Nancy, who was indeed special and never left the side of her parents. Her hands can be seen in the picture, one resting on top of my grandfather’s shoulder. Gnarled from arthritis, she used them to knit beautiful quilts for each new member of the family. Quilts that still keep each of us warm after all these years. The other was Jo, simply one of the angels God chose to send back to Earth to take care of our family and play the piano during special times. Her story is too long to tell, but in the picture she has no idea of the influence she will have on all of us who follow.
My mother and father, newly wed, sit side by side, not realizing they will be blessed with 64 years together, and they were mostly good years. And somewhere under a chair, in a corner or lying in the kitchen, there lies a dog. For sure, there lies a dog. Most of these wonderful people sleep in the photo album until they live again in someone’s hand. For now, it’s mine, but in time, hopefully, someone else will hold them in their palm and bring them back for Thanksgiving or Christmas when they can hear the bells outside rung by cousin Betty Hart or hear Ol’ Chipper barking at the moon.
This holiday season, take a picture of the loved ones in your life. Make it one you can hold and remember. Years from now they will sleep in the photo album until they live again in the palm of someone’s hand. Christmas is so much more than stuff.
Sonny Harmon is a professor emeritus at Georgia Military College. Visit his blog at http://sharmon09.blogspot.com.