Pictures lead her down Memory Lane

Published 1:37 am Saturday, November 10, 2018

During a telephone conversation with my cousin Jean last week, our daddies’ youngest sister, Aunt Lily Bell, was mentioned. Jean, who grew up near our grandparents and often saw our aunt, described what a beauty she was. “I wish I had a picture of her,” she said, adding that none of her family had one. I remembered there was one among some of my mother’s belongings, so I pulled out my big box of photos to look for it. Mother said it was made when she was a student at the University of Alabama.

I have spent a little time almost every day going through the pictures. If I could just concentrate on finding that one special photo, I would have probably already had it in hand. Instead, before I know it, I’ve picked up pictures that plunged me into the past. They keep causing me to forget what I am looking for.

Almost at the top of the box were some photos snapped during the first days of school. There I stood in a group photo with a chubby, fat-cheeked little boy with a sparkle in his eye. Next to him was a pretty little girl hiding her shy smile behind her hands. I had to check the back of the photos to find their names on the backs. I stood staring straight ahead at the photographer, glad to be at school, but probably wondering about my teacher and the classes.

Then my thoughts turned to the classroom. It was dull and drab-looking, quite different in that country school from today’s classrooms. Only a big clock and a picture of President George Washington were on the wall. If I closed my eyes, I could almost smell chalk dust and wooden shavings from the pencil sharpener. I remembered my desks through those elementary school days, etched with carvings. Underneath them were accumulations of hunks of hardened chewing gum.

Thoughts of those rooms took me to standing in line with my classmates to enter and once inside rushing to the cloakroom to stash my wraps and lunch boxes. We began the morning session with The Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer. Once a week we all gathered for assembly in the auditorium which was created by pulling back a petition between two classrooms.

I enjoyed recesses with my girl friends. We wandered around the playground together, sometimes sitting on trunks of big shade trees. In the spring we pulled little pink roses from vines running up a fence and made garlands for our hair. Occasionally, we stopped to watch boys garbed in overalls as they bent on their knees to shoot marbles. They soon ran us off when we begged them for a pretty marble.

After all that reminiscing, I suddenly recall I am hunting the picture of our precious Aunt Lily Bell. There are bundles and bundles of pictures in my big white box. I must quit reminiscing and stay focused on what I am looking for.

Nina Keenam is a former newspaper reporter.