Carefree days

April 22, 2021

Carefree days

Aimlessly sifting through boxes of old photographs I paused to reflect on my life of today. Vaguely remembering the kids, we were, yet tender to the sweetness of our childhood I dust away the cobwebs to consider how time had cast aside flashes of these memories. Photos, I barely recognize slip past my fingers, until one captures my attention. 

This snapshot from the early 1970’s of my siblings and I, nudges at fragments of the past while awakening the heartache of today. A picture our father had taken that encapsulates the innocence of those long-ago days. The image features four children seated on a curb in the Black Hill Mountains of South Dakota, opening a door to the past that I stop to contemplate.  

This picture screams of the delight of our childhood. My sister Deb, the oldest child at eleven is seated with her tiny arms dangling between her thin spidery legs. She smiled obligingly, like that of the first-born child, always eager to please their parents. My brother Rob, the youngest, at almost three is propped next to Deb and me, filling the role of distracted toddler. Surely our mother, who is not in view, had attempted to make him smile.  Lastly, my brother Joe is seated eagerly at my left. He is seven-years old, and his personality explodes in his smile as he heaves forward ready to leap from the concrete seat. I am seated between my two brothers, with the breezy attitude of a nine-year-old, oblivious to the future of our family, or the responsibility that will one day come my way. Casually I rest both arms on my knees, offering a glimpse at the easygoing adult I would come to be.

Years later conversations eventually revealed how difficult life was back then for our young parents. With four children, one income and the underestimated cost of travel, the voyage to South Dakota that we remembered shown in photos, was actually a planned trip to California for our mother to visit her sister for the first time in years, that never came to be. Once our parents realized their lack of funds, the choice was to arrive in California broke, or use what they had left for the return trip home to Ohio, and so from those Black Hills of South Dakota, we headed home.

Today, seated at the doctor’s office I am asked to record my medical history for their records.  Skimming past the questions, I pause and close my eyes picturing the photo, now hanging in my office. Muddled with tears, I pen my response. Father, deceased. Mother, deceased. Brother, deceased. Sister, traumatic brain injury, with no short-term memory. Shocked to see this reality before me, I grasp at the heartache but notice more. 

Before tragedy unraveled our lives, family gatherings would erupt with delightful stories of our childhood. Now only my youngest brother Rob and I, seated in the center of the photograph, survived the trauma of the past forty years, although not without scars of our own. I imagine Joe, who was killed by a ruptured brain aneurysm over fifteen years ago, laughing loudly at the boy he was in this photo. And I'm sure Deb, the oldest, would mock begrudgingly at our clothes. 

But just like the trip to California, sometimes life does not turn out like we had planned. And sometimes life feels too heavy when we revisit our past.  But once in a while if we search for the good, we may just uncover a sweet memory that offers happiness in the places we overlooked. 

Returning from the doctor’s office, I step into my office and gaze at that old photograph, reminiscing of the days when life was so carefree. 

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  • April 23, 2021 @ 5:52 PM EDT
    By Carol A ODonnell
    Your memories always make me teary. I don't remember hearing anything about that trip.

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