A picture is worth a thousand words, or so they say. If that’s the case, I have a short story sitting on top of my entertainment center. Those pictures tell a story of a young life filled with family and friends and cool experiences. In the back center, there is my high school class picture. A class of 200-300 eighteen year olds, eager to move on to the next phase of their lives. Our faces are a mixture of excitement and grim determination, since it took us three tries to get that picture, with storms constantly interfering. To the left of that picture is a smaller group of people, sitting on the steps of the U.S. Capital in Washington D.C., our senior class trip. We were clearly divided into our own little cliques, some of us happy to take the picture and some more eager to move on to the next leg of our trip. That was an amazing few days.
In front of the D.C. picture rests my first prom picture, nestled in a black frame. The colors were black and purple that year, which incidentally was what we were wearing. Bear and I both look back on that picture now and we’re almost astounded at how young we were, and this was just five short years ago. We had so much to learn. Going back even further than that is a frameless picture, propped up against our prom picture. This one is a few short years older, another prom picture, but not one of mine. Bear stands young and without facial hair in a handsome black tux, next to his beaming mama. Even though it was before he and I met, when he was going to prom with someone else, I love that picture. It’s the family that has accepted me as their own from day one.
Left of Bear’s first prom picture is one entirely different. The infant is so small, his eyes are closed, and he has a breathing tube in his nose. That was my second nephew, born just last July, two full months premature. He was so tiny, but the first of the great-grandchildren to have red hair. Behind one of his earliest pictures is one of his older brother, my first nephew. We’ll call him Booger and in a frame of dark wood, given to me as a Christmas gift, is his first school picture. His brown eyes shine with a child’s happiness and a certain mischievousness. His birth changed my life. It was the same year I met Bear and between those two, I’ll never be the same.
On the other end, in a large silver frame, is a combination of photos. Bear and Maestro doing their “thoughtful” poses when we visited Biltmore Estate, my first year of college. A gorgeous flower I got a picture of while we were there, Bear holding up an axe at my first Renaissance Festival. Me and my best friend from high school, posing together at McDonalds on our last girls’ day out before we both went to college.
From the beginnings of the college road to the end, the picture in front of the collage is in a clear frame. My first and last Winter Formal at my college, the picture was taken mere weeks before I graduated. The three musketeers stood together, myself, Bear, and Maestro. We all wore goofy hats and were smiling brightly, ready for what was coming next in our lives. Next to that picture is one that holds all the promise of the future, two little boys. My nephews, the five year old holding the baby, Booger’s hair wet from a bath and the baby looking more than a little bewildered. The most precious thing in the world.
I’m going to skip around, to the other side of the entertainment center. Next to the picture of my baby nephew after he was born is one of me and someone very special. I couldn’t have been no more than four or five, an open umbrella lifted over my head as water sprinkled down onto Simba’s smiling face. Only it wasn’t raining. My Pawpaw stood with an open umbrella of his own, a red one that I think we still have somewhere. He had the water hose in his hand, lifted so the water fell onto my umbrella. Before last July, I’d seen the picture before. I think I can vaguely remember that, but it wasn’t until after his death that the picture took on more meaning. In that single captured moment exists the wonderful relationship I had with my Pawpaw growing up. When we got our pictures back from the funeral home and were dividing up whose was whose, I took that one from my Mawmaw and I have no intention of giving it back, ever.
Another gifted picture is one from the night I graduated. My parents are standing with me, along with Mawmaw and my aunt, but Pawpaw wasn’t there. We felt his absence and even though we’re all smiling in the picture, we all know what’s missing. Maybe more than anyone else in my life, he would have been so proud to see that degree in my hand.
We are coming up on the one year anniversary of his death. I can’t believe it’s been a year and I still can’t believe he’s gone. No one will ever replace him and he will never be forgotten. So long as we have the pictures and the memories, he’s still with us in some small way, because pictures tell the story and our memories fill in the gaps.