Old Photos



"God made the world round so we would never be able to see too far down the road."   Isak Dinesen             

In August 1998, we visited my Mother in central Illinois. One afternoon, while my husband sat in the next room watching the Chicago Cubs lose another ballgame, Mom and I sat at the kitchen table going through a box of old photos, identifying the subjects and clarifying relationships. 

If family born in the late 19th or early 20th Century were to be remembered, I needed more to work with than “Uncle Harry and Aunt Ora.” I was penciling in details on the backs of photos. A pad of paper was nearby. Old photos stir memories.

Mom identified a picture of an infant as Freddie, one of her three brothers who did not make it to adulthood. The little fellow was seated in a wooden chair with a stuffed toy. His worried expression made him endearing. When Mom spoke about him, something about her tone of voice made me take notes.

Freddie was the baby of the family. He was born on Valentine’s day in 1929. He was two years old when he died. Mom recalled, “I was in eighth grade. I was putting together a scrapbook about politics. Hoover was president.”

Freddie had pneumonia when he was six weeks old. “They didn’t have medicine for him in those days. He was sickly. He wasn’t well. If he’d get too excited, he’d begin to turn blue,” she said.

Mom’s oldest brother, Louis, died when she was five. Bernard, born in between Louis and Mom, lived only a few months. “I never knew Bernard,” she said. It was obvious she  had been close with Freddie.

“He’d get all excited when I’d come home from school, when I’d come in the room. He’d smile and wave his hands and kick his legs. He’d be a happy little baby. I helped take care of him.”

As the oldest child, she helped with all her brothers and sisters. Her parents didn’t go out often, but once in a while they’d attend a platform dance out in the county. When they did, she was left in charge of her siblings.

“None of them were hard to care for. They minded me. I was young, but I was responsible. We all had responsibilities in those days,” she said.

Mom recalled that “it was cold” when Freddie died. His coffin was placed in the front bedroom. That’s where he was waked. “He was baptized. He was a little angel. We figured the Lord took him to heaven to be with Him,” she said. “But I missed him.”

Death was handled differently then. Mom said, “Now days, nobody faces death. They have to have counselors to deal with what is natural, what is part of life.” 

I had stopped taking notes. We’d been dividing photos into groups. One set of pictures was coming with me to Texas. I would not leave Freddie behind. 

That afternoon was my last chance to gather family history and fill in missing pieces. It was the last afternoon I’d spend with my Mother. Of course there were our weekly phone calls. And we planned to get together in Galveston for Christmas that year, but it wasn’t meant to be. On a cold night in December, Mom died peacefully in her sleep.

Sometime today, I should go through family photos and stir up pleasant memories. It would be a good way to commemorate her birthday. 

Published: The Daily Sentinel (Nacogdoches, Texas)

© Judy Morgan 2022 — jmorgan.words@gmail.com