Monday, July 19, 2004

before me, the world went on.

i'm visiting my mom's parents (we call them mam-ma and pap-pa) in west virginia at the moment, and i'm staying in the guest bedroom where there is a very solemn picture of my great-grandmother up on the wall. my parents tell me they didn't smile much for pictures back then. so there she is...lovely old mrs. ora walker, staring right at you as if she took picture-posing lessons from mrs. mona lisa herself. my sisters have always been afraid of sleeping in this room b/c of this very picture. every visit since i can remember, one or more of them were afraid of great-grandmother walker's evil stare---even though she's just posing like a proper woman of her time would---and almost every time, one of my sisters would request that the photo be taken down. so, most of my stays here in spencer, west virginia have been spent with ora's picture in the closet, and all of us lazy, loud kiser kids running around with slap-happy grins on our face. but now, i'm the one staying in the bedroom, and so, i think it's appropriate for my great-grandmother to stay up on the wall and stare at me as long as she'd like to.

after we got home from church today, my mom got out an old scrapbook after my request to see my pap-pa's twin (not identical) who passed away some 25 years ago due to alcoholism. i have never seen a picture of him and didn't find out until a few years ago that my pap-pa even had a twin. so, out of curiosity mostly, i look through the old, beat up, charcoal-colored photo album, seeing if i can spot him. out of the many pictures there, most of them at least 50 years old and some close to 80 years old, i see only one of my pap-pa and his brother, taken with both of them wearing little dress-like clothing at the age of 2. both of them are plastered with a head full of curls, and the black and white photo looks like it belongs in some sort of history book you read in the second grade when you get to the era of the great depression. my pap-pa turned 80 a few months back, so now, he looks much different than he did at age 2. i never saw another picture of he and his twin, but i did see pictures of my mother, growing up from age 1 to age 10. i sit, with fascination and restrained emotional tears as my mom is four and holding a big present outside of her home where there's a sign posted behind her with an arrow and the words "PARTY HERE" appropriately written on it. i look at the picture, look over at my mom who is quiet and has little expression. she's 54 now, and in a second, i look down at her 4-year-old self and think how i wasn't even in the picture back then. it saddens me to see her as a child b/c i know she wasn't appreciated as much as she should've been. she smiles big for photos with her parents...while my pap-pa and mam-ma barely crack a grin. i can see her optimism coming alive, and her wonderful motherly instincts being birthed alive on the scrappy-charcoal-like page. she is incredible and as i look back down, i know she will never know how incredible she is. i may utter words but they won't stay long inside of her. she is too selfless and too giving of herself. it's appropriate that her name means "pure" b/c i can't think of a better word to describe her character. i keep looking...and the photos are still in black and white, and i turn the page--again and again--looking, wondering, thinking, and processing the fact that so many of these people have come, and gone and now, live somewhere else. up in the sky, behind the stars or somewhere else perhaps, waiting for a new day to come.

in the bedroom where i'm staying, there is a certificate in memory of my great-grandfather roma walker, who died the year i was born. on this page, a beautiful poem is written above his name, in honor of his life. this man, i never knew personally---for who he truly was. but i know i want to have this poem etched in my mind, for all time, as long as i live. following are the words.

"If to die is to see with clear vision all mysteries revealed, And away is swept the curtain from joys which are now concealed; If to die is to greet all the martyrs and prophets and sages of old, And to joyously meet by still waters the flock of our own little fold; If to die is to join in hosannas to a risen, reigning Lord, And to feast with Him at His table on the bread and wind of His board; If to die is to enter a city and be hailed as a child of its King, O grave, where soundeth thy triumph? O death, where hideth thy sting?"


Megan said...

That poem is BEAUTIFUL! Does it have a known author?

Matt Wissman said...

The reason why they didn't smile in old photos is because they had to stay still for a long time. If they smiled or moved the photo would be blury. They didn't have very fast film back then (think ISO), so the shutter had to stay open on the camera longer.