Family history

Living On

It is a small photo, black and white, a glimpse of a different time captured in a 2”x4” image.  It is one of my favorites, plucked from an old family photo album with heavy black pages – photos carefully placed with those little corner holders.  I used to love looking at the albums during our summer visits to my grandparents; so many relatives staring back at me from the past, all sepia colored in memories.

This picture captures a mid summer day at the Courtney family homestead on Red Bank Road in Cincinnati. The year is probably 1933 or 1934.  There is a young woman, a boy and a cow – the cow probably belonged to a neighbor – my people were not farmers – but they were clearly comfortable around the bovine and she clearly wasn’t worried about them, in spite of the guns, but I’ll come back to that.

It is hot, the trees are all fully leafed out and the young woman wears her nylons rolled down to her ankles – a concession to the sultry river valley heat.  Her hairstyle, short and wavy, would not look out of place on Downton Abbey, but her dress, I know, is homemade, because she made all of her own dresses well into her 70’s. She never, ever wore pants.  But I don’t want to be distracted by the grandmother to come – here, she is a young mother in her early 20’s and she is enjoying a summer day with her family, being silly with her little boy.

The boy also has his socks rolled down right to the top of his snazzy saddle shoes.  He is young, maybe 5 or 6, wearing short pants, a short sleeved shirt, a summer buzz cut and you can just see the edge of his grin – I love that grin.

And there they stand in a well-grazed field; you can see the road, unpaved, just beyond the fence.  They are impishly aiming guns at the heifer standing just 5-6 feet away.  The woman carefully sights down the line of her rifle, the boy doing the same – his grip belying a comfort and confidence that says this is his BB Gun and he knows how to shoot it.  He stands just in front of her, and although the picture doesn’t show it I am confident he has one eye closed to look carefully down the barrel to perfect his aim.

And so they pose for the picture, intent on looking like they mean serious business, only a close look reveals the smiles.

The cow gazes placidly out towards the viewer with a “Can you believe this?” look on her face.  I imagine that she turned towards the photographer, doubtless my grandfather, as he called out suggestions for the perfect photo of the silly scene before him.

How I wish I could be there.

I wish it were like one of those pictures at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where the characters move around and talk.  I wish I could share this moment in time with them, hear my father as a little boy, all excited about playing in the field with his Mama.

A boy, his mom, a cow; his dad capturing a lighthearted moment in time and preserving it so that on this snowy afternoon some 800 miles and 80 years distant I feel the kinship with them.  I see the spark of my Dad’s sense of humor in the knobby-kneed boy in short pants.  I miss him.  The warmth of my grandmother’s love of children is evident in the whimsical image.  I miss her, too.  I named my daughter after her, to remind me of her love.  And I feel that love, over distance and time.

Love is, after all, forever.

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