It was a faded black and white picture almost sepia toned now. Only 17, there she stood with her thin frame, worn on her graceful swan like neck was a simple strand of pearls. Next to her stood Reverend Poole, looking more like an undertaker than a Baptist preacher. To the left of the reverend an 18 year old man, face full of pride mixed with fear and uncertainty.
They say I was at the wedding; however I cannot recall after all I was only 1. The room I knew well, my grannies dining room; the heavy ornate drapery served as a stern background for such a happy occasion. I touched the photo longingly before I place in back in the wooden box of long buried treasure.
As I sat on Grandpa’s porch guarded by the 99 year old pecan tree the shade of its branches and leaves comforted me as I had just laid Grandpa to rest earlier today; he was 105.5 years old.
For hours I wandered around the old house, let my fingers skim the dust laden player piano that my Great-grandmother Belle purchased in the late 1800’s. The walls were adorned with long gone relatives their names and stories all forgotten with time. The familiar features of each face formed the new generation that began and ended with me.
So many questions asked and answered but still 40 years had not given me time to accept the circumstances of the present day. If I closed my eyes I could see Daddy leaning on the wall between the bedroom and the den, Grandpa cooking something on the stove maybe a pot of greens or boiling dandelions for tea. Grandma Esther in the yard chasing a chicken for the night’s meal, Great grandma Belle in her rocker, a tin of snuff tucked into her apron pocket and of course Uncle Charles on the porch whistling at a pretty bowlegged girl passing by. Tears streamed down my face as I reveled in this impossible memory; as we had never all been here at the same time.
Standing by Grandpa’s bed I found myself staring at a cedar chest with an ornate carving of a Betty Grable style pinup on the top. Although the chest was six feet long and 2 ft. wide, it managed to disappear into the corner of the room. I opened it cautiously as if something might spring out. I gently lifted layers of yellowed newspaper that covered what looked like very fragile bird. It was a Creek headdress, a tiny pair of buckskin slippers and a few strands of beads. These belonged to Belle.
I continued rummaging through the chest until I found a smaller box labeled Edward inside were pictures of my dad as a baby, he looked so happy; it’s a good thing we don’t know what fate holds for us upon our arrival as life would be unbearable. Pictures of yet another unnamed aunt holding a small white child’s hand. The child looking up at her adoringly not knowing that this child would grow up and vote to deprive her of all her human rights; the year was Dec 1st 1927. A snapshot of my Grandmother Esther; my twin, holding daddy and Uncle Charles one on each knee. Sweet Uncle Charles he played that old piano as though he was channeling Gods Angels from Heaven, eyes closed, fingers flying, peace prevailing across his black satin face. Poor Uncle all the angels in Heaven couldn’t save him from the ravages of heroin and then aids. Esther married Grandpa when she was way too young why grandpa was already old in 1940. She died of cirrhosis of the liver, the old folks said it was jaundice but I knew better. Yes it all killed her; cirrhosis, failed dreams, the loss of a child born before daddy, the heartbreak of abandonment by her father, the coldness of a white mother who committed suicide to escape the pressures and harsh treatment of society. Her love for my Great-grandfather was a crime. Another picture of daddy in white high top shoes and a sailor suit here his eyes possess a knowing look; there is a sweet sadness in his baby smile a hint that his life would be short and tragic. Daddy was killed by a drunk driver at the age of 46. Suddenly my heart could not bear another moment of this box, this sorrowful cachet of things that was and never will be.
Grandpa said a long life was a curse if you didn’t have your loved ones with you. I say it’s a curse if you have them and loose them.
One last place to explore, a chiffonier with six deep drawers each holding more promises of the past. Hiding amongst the ruble of time I see an autograph book, my dads’ elaborate E graces the cover. I read selected ramblings of his friends. “Edward stay just the way you are”!! , “Eddie you’re a charm”! "Ed your tops”! I giggle at these old time phrases and think of American Bandstand. The back of the autograph book was used as a diary. Writings of ice cream dates, walks from the library, lingering after church with one special girl. I can’t help but to smile when I read the sweet words written obviously by a youth very infatuated with the girl of his dreams is how he put it. Well the last entry noted was an argument between Eddie and dream girl the date is November 30, 1969.
I had managed to spend the whole day scouring the house for relics that I wanted to preserve for my daughter. My mind was a jumble of all the stories grandpa told me about who we were, where we came from and what we went through just to be able to breathe the stubborn breezes of arid Alabama air.
On the way back to Atlanta I passed Elmwood Cemetery, 50 years ago grandpa wouldn’t have been able to work there let alone spend eternity in one of it’s plots. Times do change.
Later that evening I delivered that small wooden box to my mom, she removed the autograph book. I watched her eyes it was as if she was transported back in to time.
She turned her back to me as she ready the diary entries, I saw her hand raise to wipe a single tear from her cheek.
I was born 9 months after that last diary entry. My mom removed the faded picture from the box turned to me and said you know you were at the wedding.