Photographs are the memories of our lives.
July 9, 2016
AS I THOUGHT ABOUT IT, I realized that I like writing about pictures that people come across and got to wondering why. The best I can tell, I like doing that because looking at pictures is something people do in real life, often in the most trying of times.
A fiance who misses her betrothed who is in Afghanistan fighting for his country, grandparents too far from new born grandbabies, people celebrating an anniversary, proud parents about to attend a high school graduation are typical examples when we find ourselves looking at snapshots, remembering.
Or what about a courtroom drama where the critical evidence is a grainy black and white shot?
Of course, as writers this presents a double challenge. How do you write about a picture and do it justice? We all know we should show and not tell, but showing is one of the hardest parts of the writing craft.
Here is an excerpt that focuses on pictures in my novel: The Warrior with Alzheimer’s.
Jessie Wilson knelt on the hard pine floor of her attic and sifted through pictures stored in an old trunk, pictures of the things she had loved the most, the hardest, for the longest time. Woody popped up in many, if not most, of them, always smiling, almost grinning, as if life tickled him.
In one taken on her wedding day, Woody stood beaming next to Waylon, his best man. In another he held Jessie’s first born at the hospital. There was one of him serving as a pallbearer at her dad’s funeral, crying next to the grave while she and Waylon stood on either side of him, an arm draped over his shoulder, their heads hung low, in a misty cold December rain two weeks before her baby girl’s first Christmas.
Soon she wept, too. Not because Woody was lost, but because of what they had lost of Woody. She remembered on her wedding day, just before Waylon and she ran out of the church fellowship hall to get in the car and start their weekend honeymoon sandwiched between low-paying jobs, how he had taken her aside, in private, and placed an envelope in her hand.
“Put this in your purse, my new daughter,” he told her. “Waylon doesn’t have much money, but he has all the love in the world.” Later at the motel she drew it out and showed it to Waylon, the five crisp hundred dollar bills looking for all the world to them like a king’s ransom and they laughed, then cried, then called Woody collect to thank him and he laughed and cried, too.
She daubed the tears from her eyes with the tail of Waylon’s old white cotton shirt that she wore when she did chores around the house, and her gaze fell on an aged over-sized manila envelope wrapped around with a rubber band.
“I don’t remember this,” she said as she took it and peeled the band off. It cracked and burst at her first tug. In Maggie’s unmistakable flowing hand were written with a fountain pen on the outside of the envelope “Fall, 1957.”
Inside Jessie found a half-dozen black and white photos of a younger Woody and Maggie on a road trip in a Corvette, the top down, their faces sunburned, Woody grinning, Maggie smiling with her mouth open. Among shots of burger joints where girls on roller skates waited on them while they sat in their car, old buildings that looked somehow historic and an Amish couple riding in a horse-drawn surrey, one especially caught her eye.
In the photo there was a third person, a man some years older than Woody dressed in a wool sports jacket, the knot of his tie perfectly formed, snugged up against his pressed white cotton shirt, his dark wool slacks draped over a slender, almost emaciated frame, his leather two-toned shoes polished to a brilliant sheen. The man sat between Woody and Maggie with his arms around their necks, pulling them close to him so the unknown photographer could catch all three of them.
In the background, Jessie saw large oaks surrounding a farm house set in the country. A horse grazed in the pasture oblivious to them. At the bottom edge of the picture, Jessie could make out the outline of a woman’s long skirt in the shadow that fell on the driver’s side rear tire of the Corvette.
Jessie gently stuffed the pictures back in the envelope, wrapped a linen pillowcase around it to protect it and placed it in the bottom of the trunk.
She took her cell from her shirt pocket and called Maggie.
I hope you could see those photos.