Friday, May 30, 2014
The Sentimentality of a Family Photo
By Adam T. Gruver
Here, you see a colorful snapshot into the lives of a young boy and an older man. Their exchange of reverent smiles allows the viewers to assume these two people are well acquainted, maybe grandfather and grandson. The older gentleman holds the young boy up and looks into his eyes with a deep admiration. He uses both arms and the placement of his body to make sure the boy is safe and sturdy on the fence. The dog stands obediently at the man's feet, but pays no mind to the two main subjects of the photo or the camera person. His gaze and attention are fixated on some unknown element sitting outside the frame of vision. The landscape, although unfamiliar, is not seen well enough to make a fair supposition as to exactly where this photo was shot. However, an observer may be able to discern from the rust-covered, pipe fencing and the tattered corrugated-tin structure this photo was perhaps taken on an old farm or ranch. Being witness to sincere happiness makes it hard for an onlooker not to crack a smile. Without even knowing the people, a total stranger can appreciate the purity and simplicity caught in a moment such as this. The young boy has not yet lost his innocence, and the man is proud and willing to protect it. I am the child in this photo, long since grown up and faced with many trials and tribulations of life. The older man is my grandfather. It has been little more than a decade since his passing, and almost as long since my two feet have touched the arid, sandy soil of that old ranch. In fact, after five generations, it is no longer in the possession of my family. In my candor I also, regretfully, admit I was too young, and this happy occasion in the shade of an old oak tree has faded from my memory. Regardless, when I glance at this picture, I am content. Although the circumstances surrounding this particular photo may elude the grasp of my mind, individual aspects bring forth a flood of mixed emotions. Studying it now allows past thought and feelings to break free from the far corners of my subconscious where they had once been lost. I remember the old feeding pen in the pasture of my boyhood home in Texas, and a delighted smile emerges on my face. Growing up as an only child on a 60-acre ranch, I found imaginative ways of entertaining myself. I explored every inch of those fields throughout my childhood, and played and climbed on the old rusty construct like it was a jungle gym. Also, unbeknownst to the audience of this photo, there is a pond in the distant background and beyond that, a creek where I visited frequently. I would wander forever, fishing and blackberry-picking my way along the banks until the sun went down. Along with playful memories of childhood, looking at me as such a youngling sparks reflection upon a much simpler time. A child, at that age, has no concept of responsibility, nor is his mind weighed down with the worries of adulthood. The only thoughts that occupied my mind were those involving toys, candy, and maybe what cartoon I should watch. Those were great times but such ease and joyfulness are typically short-lived. The photograph brings about some less cheerful recollections as well. It was right around this me that the Sharpei, (Char-Lee) had left his mark on me. The thoughts forth from this aspect of the picture are slightly more disconcerting. He was a great dog, loyal, and obedient to the tooth. Unfortunately, he wasn't the most patient. At 18 months old, I was an energetic child, (A nature that can be oppositional to that of impatience). I was playing on the floor in the kitchen while Cha-Lee was at his bowl eating. Naively, I crawled up and attempted to get him to participate; he wanted no part. Char-Lee let out a growl to warn me for being too rambunctious in his space. Not understanding, I slapped him across the jowls, and in an instant my face was torn open from the corner of my right eye to the right corner of my mouth. He knew instantly that he had made a terrible mistake, and I knew, even then, I was at fault. Bleeding and crying, I surprisingly attempted to protect my dog from my own mother. Some say that children cannot form memories until three or four years of age, but I beg to differ. These images are burned into my brain forever. Even though this is my most pronounced memory of Char-Lee, nostalgic warmth is still felt when looking at him in this photo. My grandfather, (or Pawpaw, as we say in the south) is the final component of this image, and like the memory of Char-Lee, his is a bittersweet sentiment. I was seven years old. I had arrived home from school and, as always, went to say hello to my granddad. I opened the door to his room, and there he lay on the floor next to his bed. He had had a stroke and was barely conscious. I called 911 and, although my Pawpaw survived this brush with death, over the New Year he was moved to a nursing home, his health slowly diminished, and 2001 he passed away. These thoughts are brought to mind when looking at the photo, but I still smile. Pawpaw, to me, was larger than life, and although tears fill my eyes as I write these words, they are there in happy remembrance of a great man. A photograph of a young boy with a dog and his grandfather seems plain enough, but, like most things, there is always more than meets the eye. It may be a depiction of a simple, happy event, but pictures can often bring a lot of feeling to the surface. Even though some experiences may be less pleasant than others, all that matters is how we choose to remember them.