What I see whenever I go home:
The Photos on the Dresser
When I go home for a visit I stay in a room with an old blue dresser that has been there ever since I can remember. Four framed photos sit atop the dresser. They are only some of the photos Mom has around the house. But they’re the ones I see the most. Each has a little bit of a story behind it.
The oldest of the four shows my mother’s mother and father. She is smiling and has her arms around him. He looks like he would rather be doing something else. I don’t know why. By all accounts he was a sweet-natured man. Perhaps he just hated posing for photos. You can see from the picture that he was a rather short man—shorter than his wife, in fact.
She was the second wife. Until recently I had supposed that my grandfather was a widower. I know now that his first wife abandoned him and their four children for another man. It’s hard to imagine, even with the experience I’ve had (I don’t like that word “wife” much any more), what a blow that must have been.
Somehow after that he got back in touch with a girl he had known back home in Arkansas before he and his younger brother had traveled to New Mexico to seek their fortunes. She had stayed in Arkansas and become a school teacher. They corresponded, and at some point he invited her to come out to New Mexico and be his new wife. The result was my mother. She also made a good stepmother to the four children who had been abandoned by the birth mother. They all loved their baby sister very much when she arrived. My grandparents remained firmly wed until her death at a tragically early age from breast cancer.
The second photo was taken at her funeral. My little grandfather stands there surrounded by his three hulking sons and two daughters. He and the sons, all grown by now, are clearly in mourning. To one side you see their young, blond, sister, who, if you look closely, you can tell is expecting a baby (her first). Beside her stands a tall, pretty teenager with long dark hair. That was Mom. She was a couple of years away from even meeting her future husband. Despite their mourning, the daughters are smiling, putting on a brave face for the camera. It’s ironic that in this case it was the men who were letting their true emotions show.
All of the five children would go on to have families. Two of the brothers are now dead. I saw my aunt for the first time in many years only last year. Prior to that time, when I was very young, she and her children had spent a while living with our family after she had finally fled an abusive husband. He had seemed like a fine man when they married, a brilliant man with good prospects, a gentle man who helped to care for my grandmother during her terminal illness. He let a demon in a bottle turn him into a brute whose wife and children have never fully recovered. I’m thankful that Mom made a far better choice than her sister did.
The third photo shows a soldier in dress uniform. It’s a formal portrait before an American flag, so he looks quite serious. He’s my brother. You don’t usually see him look that serious when you meet him!
He’s a career NCO, which means he is probably pretty tough when he has to be. He also has three girls. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a career NCO sitting on the floor playing Barbies with his little girls. He works at being a good father, and from what I’ve seen has enjoyed quite a bit of success.
His career does not make things easy for him and his wife and the girls. The family has lived on four different military posts over the years. He has been deployed overseas three times since the beginning of the current war, meaning he has spent close to half of the past six years away. We’re very proud of his service to his country, but we hope he gets to stay home for a good while now.
The last photo is a formal college yearbook photo taken when I was about half my present age. I don’t look much like Mom—most of my genes seem to have come from Dad’s mother. In the photo I’ve got this mass of blond hair, styled in a way it hasn’t been for many years now. My body looks almost frail. You’d never guess I spent my summers at that time helping Dad lay bricks. I don’t look all that different now, except for obviously being older and having turned into a dishwater blond.
I used to think in those days that I was a hard-headed pragmatist. But the eyes in the photo tell a different story. They’re soft eyes, the eyes of a softheaded, softhearted dreamer. Most of the dreams haven’t turned out too well. In the intervening years I found romance, something I thought I’d never do, married, and lost it all. I invested a number of years in a failed career and then found another one which has worked out so far. Never, when I sat for that photo, would I have imagined what was going to happen to me over the next two decades. I’m glad for my sake that I didn’t have a clue.
Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, that you may be the children of your Father who is in Heaven.