One of my cousins emailed me tonight asking if I had a copy of the photograph mentioned in chapter 3 of my recently published book, Pumping Sunshine.
I emailed her the photo.
“Who is sitting on their laps?” she asked. “Is that Nana?”
Since others may have the same question, I’ve pasted the photo below, along with an excerpt from my next book (title unknown) in which I will be searching for my future husband. Spoiler alert for the few who might read that one. I find him.
This except from “title unknown” explains who is in the photograph.
The school bus ride down dusty dirt roads to pick up kids or drop them off was usually uneventful. On most days, I had time to daydream. And more often than not, I imagined my future life, living in a house with a white picket fence, married and keeping house for my Prince Charming—our kids, a dog, and a cat, playing in the yard. I certainly didn’t want to become what Daddy called a “spinster,” an old maid.
From an early age, I understood that girls got married when they grew up. I already knew what my future husband would look like. He’d resemble the man in the photograph of Daddy’s family of four that hung on one of the dark paneled walls in our old house.
The portrait, in an ornate frame under convex glass, included Daddy as a baby, nestled in his mother’s arms, with one tiny foot peeping from under his white dress. A frown, which included his dark eyes, made me think the camera or photographer scared him. His year-old brother Mernest, with hair like a girl, sat on his father’s knee, wearing a white dress and dark, lace-up boots, a rattle clasped in one hand. His eyes, much lighter than the rest of his family, stared into space. The sepia-toned photo didn’t reveal what I knew: Uncle Mernest had one gray eye, the other blue.
In the photo, a lace collar framed my grandmother’s face, so solemn I wondered if she still grieved for baby Ernest, Mernest’s twin. Daddy said baby Ernest was found “dead in bed on March 10, 1915, just two months after the twins were born.”
Every time I looked at this picture of Daddy’s family, I felt sorry for my grandmother, but my eyes always came to rest on my young grandfather Clarence Garfield Howell, with thick hair as dark as the soot in our brick fireplace. Dressed in a dark, three-piece suit, he wore a mischievous expression on his face, and when I looked into his eyes, they locked with mine. I never knew him. He died soon after Daddy turned eight. Still, I imagined my young grandfather’s deep, hearty, laugh—the guffaw I wanted my future fun-loving husband to have.
After our old house was torn down and we moved into our new house, I no longer had that photograph on the wall to stare at during meals. Mama never bothered to re-hang the old picture in the new house. I think she didn’t want to mar our freshly painted sheetrock walls. Besides, we now ate most family meals in our big kitchen.
The photograph lay face down on a utility room shelf—a shelf I could not reach unless I stood on a chair. But it didn’t matter. Nothing could erase the image in my head.