By Lorry Myers
When the phone rings, you never know who it might be. It could be someone you don’t know saying something you don’t anticipate. A voice you’ve never heard before, that sounds vaguely familiar.
“You don’t know me, but we’re related.”
Don Marshall called me out of the blue because he made the decision to finish his life in a nursing home. He started going through torn envelopes and worn folders full of yellowed newspaper clippings and faded photos of his relatives.
He was the only one left.
“I need you to come see me,” Don said empathically. “I have something for you.”
When I walked into his room at the nursing home, Don had pictures and papers spread all over his bed. I reached out to take his hand and instead, he gave me an old black and white photo and when I recognized the bride, I caught my breath and looked at Don, my eyes wide with surprise.
Don had been the caretaker of his family’s photos and the stories that they bring and now he felt it his duty to place them where they belong.
Before it was too late.
It was my grandmother, Goldie, in the picture, and this was her wedding day. I had never seen my grandmother like this, with her hair softly curled around her face, a hat cocked over one eye. Next to her was my grandfather, the love of her life. The dark-haired man was grinning like someone forgot to tell him there was no smiling in old photos. The newlyweds looked so young and full of hope, unaware that my grandfather would die in a few more years, leaving behind his young wife and four children. The groom in the photo had my father’s smile and a light in his eyes that shines when all your dreams come true.
Don wasn’t done yet.
Next he pulled out a yellowed photo of a young boy, hair slicked down and parted, wearing his Sunday best. It took me a moment to comprehend that this was my father, a young boy who had no idea that in a couple of years, he would be the man of his family. I searched my father’s young face and recognized the eyes of my oldest sister and the smile of my younger brother.
I had seen that smile before.
Don showed me old pictures of greats and grands and 2nds and 3rds. He had detailed charts naming names and identifying which branch of the family tree each person belonged. There were stoic women with straight backs and gentle eyes. Tall, gangly men with dusty hats and weathered faces. People with names like Zona and John Jackson and Thomas Hart Benton Sewell. Along with the photos there were stories of love and heartache and bad decisions and even though the pictures said something different, the names I heard made me feel like I am descended from royalty.
Sitting with Don on his bed, I was held captive by the faces I had never seen and the stories that I won’t forget. Faces with names and stories that made my past come alive. Tales of old dogs and junk cars and the women that kept the family going. Don had spent his last years collecting and organizing the history that was left to him and now he was worried. When he made that call to someone he didn’t know, Don was desperate to know that Walter and Goldie’s limb of his family tree would be cared for.
That it would not be forgotten.
For the complete column, please see this week’s edition of the Centralia Fireside Guard.