I’ve written before about going through old family pictures that Cheri’s mom had amassed from both sides of their family – those ghosts of life past, with many of them unknown faces, since it has been hard to sort out the family going back three generations from the neighbors in the farming area who used to give out family pictures for Christmas and the like, which then the other families, completely unrelated, kept in the same trunk or drawer as all their own family pictures, to the point that now, 100 years later everything is all mixed up and we don’t know who we are related to, and who just was a neighbor. Mark the backs of your pictures, folks! It will save hours and hours of frustration when you relatives 100 years from now are still trying to sort out those old photos.
Of course, with the advent of digital photos, two important things will certainly evolve: one, we will probably never be able to find all the pictures on computers and hard drives and thumb drives, since we no longer take the exposed rolls of film down to the drugstore, and send them away for developing. Also, since digital photos cost nothing to produce – just a little space on a computer drive – normal folks have taken to become the equivalent of professional photographers, shooting dozens of the same event, and never going back and deleting most of them. Cheri’s sister, for example, I’m sure has digital photos numbering in the millions by now, mostly of people putting food in their mouths or scratching their nose and such. I’m not one for government regulation, but for crying out loud, try some family regulation. I don’t want to be remembered that many times…
Of course, long ago, when a couple got married, they probably took three pictures – one of the bride and groom, one of the bridal party in total and one of the family in attendance. Today, if you can imagine, a photographer will shoot 4000 pictures, for an average wedding. “Back then” every occasion was met with the Brownie Starmite camera being pulled out, and a – read one – picture was taken, with a birthday cake, or a new car, or the 4th of July, and you hoped when the pictures came back that they were blurry. My grannie had a camera that she used for decades, that you had to load film in, in the dark closet, and then hopefully not wind the film too much so that you skip pictures. She then had a flash attachment that used a bulb that was the same as staring into the sun. She would lick the end of the bulb, for some reason, and then with us standing there, usually in the heat of the summer, sweating, she would take more time than Ansel Adams, lining up the shot with her little upside down viewfinder, and then, at the moment when almost all was lost, she would push the button, and we would then walk around blinded for a good five minutes, being careful not to step on the flaming hot used bulb that would often hit the floor. Those were the days.
So, after Mom died two years ago, my sister Robin decided to take on the task of going through the family photos of Mom’s parents, grandparents, and possibly earlier, and Dad’s parents, grandparent and certainly great-grandparents. That’s a lot of old people, and a lot of grayscale photos. They are certainly old faces, even if they were pictures taken of little kids. It’s been fascinating to see photos of a young Dad, in boy scouts, and as a safety patrol and then a bit older, graduating from high school, and then wearing his first Air Force uniform as a new officer. Robin actually did a good bit of detective work, trying to determine different faces that carried different names. When all you have in your mind are the mental pictures of say, my great-grandparents when they were in their 80s, it’s quite a stretch to then see pictures of when they were in their 20s. I’ve done a lot of work with family history, and so I’ve been able to locate photos of folks I never knew, like my great-great-great grandfather, probably only in his 40s, which would make him 20 years younger than I am today. Still, the faces are old. They aren’t the kind that look like they were taken with a digital camera in 2021. It’s more like a single picture, taken in front of the family house somewhere, as the photographer, whoever he or she was, making sure that the entire house got in the pictures, resulting with the people in the picture almost indistinct, like they were posed on a hill far away.
One particular one included a husband and wife, and two adult children or in-laws or someone. As I looked at the picture, I began to remember another that looked fairly familiar. Sure enough, I was able to pull up an image of my grannie’s grandparents, both and stern and apparently unhappy as they could be. Jacob had a nice looking moustache, and Alzina was dressed in an outfit that covered her from her chin to her toes. My brother did remind me that folks “back then” were not given to smiling in photos – decorum stated that these were serious moments, and to smile would put you in the category of the village idiot – or most high school seniors. So now we have a photo of the two when they were probably 30 years old, and another when they were probably in their 70s. That’s it. Two pictures in a lifetime. And old faces.
Who will remember our names? Who will know the story of our lives, our passions, our hates, our plainly important stuff? Will anyone remember that I absolutely love corn on the cob? Or that I most usually cry when I hear the national anthem? Or even that I am left-handed, and I wonder how many of my ancestors were as well? We do lose the stories, and the memories distill down into the barest of recollections – sometimes no more than the dates on a gravestone. It is for us to claim and put down in writing the stories and account of the lives of those persons God has blessed us to know. That’s a sacred kind of work that we are well invited to do.
And who knows? Maybe someone, someday, will look at our “old faces,” and remember who we have been.
Word for the day: truculent. Pronounced TRUCK-you-lunt. It is a word that is far more fierce than it sounds. It comes from the Latin root, trux, which means “savage, or wild.” Truculentus was having the quality of that kind of wildness. A truculent person, therefore, is always ready to pick a fight – the person is most often cruel or ferocious or defiant. We have all known truculent people, and most of them are real pains to have to deal with. They’d rather fight than breathe. Like a growling dog, I usually like to walk in the street than on their sidewalk.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.