It was in a box. A gift box from a local Ohio store. One of those sturdy boxes with the department store’s name etched on it. It was the kind of box that once held a crisp, white dress shirt or a silk slip. The box was full of loose photos, newspaper clippings, funeral cards; the bits and pieces and fragments of life that have the tendency to build nests inside boxes and quietly nurture the past.
Although I never had the pleasure of meeting him, I instinctively knew the man in the photo was Tom’s grandfather, John, and that the photo was one of those “finds” that demanded a frame to enclose it and a shelf to rest upon.
This is a small photo, with a bright light shining upon John. It has a folksy look that always makes me wonder what Norman Rockwell would have made of it.
John spent much of his life as a farmer. We have another photo of him with his first team of horses. John has the same honest, direct gaze in his eyes in that photo, as well.
Like many farmers of his time, of any time, in truth, John also worked side jobs to eke out a sustainable income. Farm life was, and still is hard, struggling from crop to crop, season to season. So it was that John did custodial work for the local school and the Lutheran church down the road; buildings that needed to be kept warm for students and for parishioners, as well as odd jobs that kept everything going.
This photo harkens the holidays. John is standing on a small stage, much like a stage I once stood on in my own childhood. These wooden stages were a few steps up, usually in the church basement or school gymnasium. They allowed for recitations, commencements, ceremonies and meetings. Perhaps you had , or still have, one in your life.
John is looking directly into the camera, a pipe in his mouth, wearing overalls and work shoes. He is leaning on what appears to be a dolly. At his side is a freshly cut evergreen tree. My ever-active imagination conjures up scenes of John and another going off to find the tree, felling it, loading it onto a platform in back of the “machine”. Farm folk, and some city folk, often called automobiles machines. Finally, the tree would be put to rest at the foot of this stage. A hand-wrought wooden tree stand holds the tree. The tree awaits tinsel and ornaments, a star or an angel on top.
This little snapshot in time speaks volumes of a kind and hardworking man who struggled to make ends meet, yet, still smiled as he looked his neighbor in the eyes, puffed on his pipe, and held, frozen in time, an act of goodwill and anticipation.
Have you ever found a long-ago gift in a box or drawer or whatever?