If only a photograph could tell the story of a boy and his dog
August 19, 2015
There are stories out there – stories readily available, stories within comparative easy reach.
Then there are stories which fully escape us, so we must write them, tell them only in part.
And, even then, we must often write them, tell them without full facts but with what might be borrowed from the imagination.
One such example of the latter:
Now and then, as the years go by, a photograph surfaces in the family.
It is a group photograph of soldiers.
In the middle of the front row is a soldier holding a dog.
The soldier is known. He is a brother, Earl.
Not much is known about the dog, except that he was called Tex.
Which figures, because Earl the soldier was from Texas.
The photograph was made not long after the soldier joined the Army.
The Canadian Army.
The Canadian Army?
The soldier wanted to get as far away from his home in Texas as possible. He and his father were at great odds. They were engaged in their own war. The soldier’s mother had died. He borrowed some money from the woman of means who lived in the big house upon the hill. He left.
Did he take a bus to Canada? A train? Hitchhike? Why Canada?
Other bits and pieces of the story have made their way down through the years: Earl “adopted” the dog. For some reason, Earl wrote a sister for a cornbread recipe. Why would he possibly want a cornbread recipe? Some of the siblings, wanting to cheer him, wrote their names and wrote “silly things” on a large piece of paper and mailed it to him. When the father found out where his son had gone, he cried.
Gaps in the story.
Rhode Island-size gaps.
In fewer than five months after he had left home, Earl the father died. Earl the son, the brother, the soldier returned to Texas, voluntarily became – at age 18 – ‘father’ to seven younger siblings.
Through the decades, Earl spoke little if any of those days in the Canadian military.
Not to his siblings.
Not to his wife.
Not to his children.
So just now, as has happened a time or two or three through the years, the photograph of the soldiers, including the brother with the dog on the front row, has surfaced.
Surfaced to remind us, push us to go in search of more of the story.
More attempts at filling in the gaps.
Causing those of us who see it to wonder what the fuller story is – indeed, all of the little stories that make up the more complete story.
The fuller story that will never be known in its entirety.
So, instead, it remains a story of bits and pieces.
A story of what ifs.
Of wonder whys.
Always, a story that beckons. Pulls.
And so – again – we look at the photograph.
And, each time we do, we look at it a little longer.
What clues will it give?
What added part of the story will it tell?
And, as we do, we wonder:
What were the fuller set of circumstances that took him there, there to that unfamiliar, surely lonely place?
And what thoughts accompanied him on the way there?
Remained with him while he was there?
Where did the little dog come from? How did the soldier and the dog find each other? What happened to the dog when the soldier came home?
The questions will go on as long as we do.
The story will never know completion – though, it is hoped, some of the little stories that make up the larger story might surface each time the photograph does.
But, as we look at the photograph again and again and again, and longer and longer and longer, we realize the little dog named Tex is relaxed and content and the soldier named Earl with the smile on his face is, too.
They have found each other.
They have each other.
What each sought, each found.
And, in that moment and under those circumstances, it is an embracing, happy story.
A story of solace.
A story of comfort.
A story of peace.
And, for the soldier from Texas and his little dog named Tex, maybe the story is enough.
Maybe the only story that really matters.
Roger Summers is a journalist, essayist and author. Roger Summers is the author of Heart Songs from a Washboard Road.