“Picture Postcards from the Past,” column for Sept. 2, 2014

Three long years had passed since my sister’s last visit to our home in Las Vegas. Three years, I guess, is long enough to make even old things look new.

“Sissy,” she said last week, “where did you get that picture of daddy in the guest room?”

I had to stop and think.
Years ago, when a job change moved my husband and me to Nevada, he insisted on covering a wall behind my desk with photos that he said would help me feel “more at home.”

I think he was worried. We’d been married for only a year and he was probably wondering how I’d adjust to living in a desert 500 miles from our children and friends and the life I had loved on the coast of California.

For the record, thanks to countless visits (and visitors) to and from California, I have adjusted just fine.

Anyhow. He let me choose the photos, but he did all the work, arranging and hanging various shapes and sizes in a pattern that somehow fit perfectly together, much like the people in the pictures _ my family.

He was right. It helped.

A year later, we moved again and my desk ended up in front of a window. So he rehung those photos in our new guest room. They still help. That was eight years ago. I don’t often go in the guest room. So when my sister asked about our dad’s photo, I had to go and look.

It was taken when Daddy was in his late 60s, some years after he’d suffered a massive stroke that slurred his speech, left him with a limp, and paralyzed his arm. He was sitting on a porch, wearing his usual bib overalls and a lopsided grin. You could see his old car in the driveway.

He looked … happy.

“That one?” I said. “It was there the last time you were here. Don’t you remember? I snapped it when I was home for a visit. Not long before he died.”

“It’s a great picture,” she said. “I’d love to have a copy.”

“Did you see the one above it?”

Our parents were divorced when we were young, and I doubt they’d appreciate being displayed so close together. But they aren’t around to complain.

I shot the snapshot of our mother on that same visit. She was 10 years younger than our dad, in her late 50s. She was sitting on a blanket by a lake, watching my children try to drown each other.

“Mama,” I’d said, “look at me.”

When she glanced over her shoulder, she was beaming. I caught it with the camera.

She looked … happy.

“Oh,” said my sister, “I didn’t notice it before. I love it! Can I get a copy of it, too?”

They were old snapshots with no negatives, wrinkled and faded with time. My sister and I share a great many things, genes and memories, mostly. But between us, we have very few photos of our parents, and fewer still when they looked … happy.

So I spent an hour on the computer and managed to print some pretty good copies. They weren’t great. But pretty good isn’t bad if it’s all you’ve got. My sister was thrilled.

The day after she left, I went in the guest room to change sheets and found myself staring at the photos I’d replaced on the wall. I was feeling kind of low, tired from our two-week whirlwind visit, yet sad to think how long it may be until I see her again.

But when I thought about the prints I’d made and how much pleasure they would bring her, I realized that there are times when the smallest of efforts can feel like major victories.

Looking at the photos of our long-departed parents with the smiles on their faces and the light in their eyes shining down upon me, somehow I felt better. Then I saw my own reflection mirrored in the glass.

I wish you could’ve seen me.

I looked … happy.


  1. Linda Stiles says

    I can’t tell you how glad I am that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette started carrying your columns! Not since Erma Bombeck, whose columns I loved have I enjoyed a writer’s efforts. Yours are about situations to which the average person can relate. They are touching, insightful, and hit close to home. Thanks to you and the P-G for something to look forward to- opening up the paper and finding your latest blog.

  2. Two weeks time spending with sister , Sharon you are so lucky to have her company for this much time . I want same to spend with my sister ,some sweet photographs which we can ,that time cannot come back but pictures have their own stories to remember again and again . Thanks for reminding company of sisters and sweet pictures to hang on wall . God bless you always !

  3. And having read this latest gem, I’m happy, too.

    See the influence you have with your wonderful words that touch so many?



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