From as early as I can remember, and for as long as my grandparents lived on the McCurdy farm, there was a black safe on one side of my grandparents’ bed. Grandpa C.R. used it as his nightstand; on top there were two ashtrays overflowing with his Masonic pins, tie tacks, cufflinks, and spare change. Right in the corner, sat a double picture frame, holding two 8×10 black and white portraits. My grandpa was on the left and my Grandma Helen’s portrait was on the right, they must have been taken in the early 50s.
Those photos fascinated me. My grandpa’s eyes danced and his smiled beamed. In sharp black and white contrast, you could see his posture was perfect as he posed in a light grey suit, looking straight at the camera. My grandma’s shot was also a typical 1950s headshot: she glanced to her right, as if looking at grandpa in the next frame. Her eyes steady, her smiled relaxed, and her hair appeared perfect, as always.
I remember often being underfoot when my grandma was vacuuming the dark rust colored carpet in that room. I was probably only seven or eight. A long central vacuum hose in toe, she caught every imperfection in the carpet. She wore her typical summer cleaning outfit – a short-sleeved white button down shirt and bright colored Capri pants. When she stopped to move the vacuum to another room, I asked about her photo.
She stopped and stood up straight, her eyes looking at something far away in the distance, a faint smile on her face. She laughed quietly. Then she told me the story of the day Grandpa came home from his two years of service in the Army overseas, where he spent most of his time in Germany.
Grandma Helen and another Army wife traveled to pick up their husbands near the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Once they arrived there were people everywhere, just as you might imagine. One young man in uniform was walking past her in all of the chaos and he stopped.
“Are you Dick McCurdy’s girl?”
Grandma smiled and said, “Yes.”
The soldier laughed and said he recognized her from the photo my grandpa had up in his locker. That black and white picture with my grandma gazing over her left shoulder, the one that sat framed on the safe.
Once they reunited the two couples traveled home together through Minnesota. They stopped in a small town where Grandma and Grandpa’s travel companions snapped another one of my favorite photos of all time: There stands my grandpa with a huge smile, and my grandma with her trademark “are you really going to take my picture” smile. I love their expressions, but I also love how the photographer captured my grandma’s reflection in the storefront window of a quant small town. It adds another layer to the beautiful moment that was frozen in time, on a very happy day.
Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words. And when those people are no longer with you on this earth, those photos – and the stories – are worth even more.