Write about a black-and-white photograph
The picture on the mantle had everyone in it; Uncle Joe, Aunt Mabel holding her little baby Jane, Grandpa, Gramma, Ma, Pa, my brother Enoch, and me and the dog. We were all in front of the old farm house that Pa had until he couldn’t farm any more. We had scattered to the wind and now were coming back around to put Pa in the ground.
You’d think that Grandpa and Gramma would have died first but that wasn’t so. Aunt Mabel was the first to go. Uncle Joe shot her dead when he was in a drunken rage. He died in prison waiting to be executed. Cousin Jane and her little brother Joe Junior came to live with us after that.
Ma never forgave Joe for killing her sister and took it out on Jane and especially Joe Junior, who looked and acted so much like his dad that it would drive Ma a little crazy. We had a shed out behind the barn and Jane would hide out there when Ma was on a tear. We all had our places to go. Pa could always calm her down but he was out working in the fields. He had some guys working’ for him but he’d grab Enoch and me and put us to work as much as he could. But Jane and Joe Junior were there at her mercy. And as much as I love my Ma, she could have very little mercy.
School time was better as we were all out of her hair most of the time. But even then I could see how Ma shorted those two when she was dishing up dinner. They always got the smallest pieces of meat and the worst of anything else we had. It wasn’t fair but Ma felt she was justified after taking in her sister’s kids. They never starved and always had clothes and shoes and a winter coat. But love, there wasn’t a lot of that. Pa tried to make up for it some, especially with Joe Junior. He was the only one who stayed and looked out for them as they got older. Ma never liked him.
He was a bit of a hell raiser and he had his hide tanned so often there wasn’t a good switch left on any of the trees. But as soon as he was able he joined Enoch and me in the fields and made a name for himself on the school football teams. He has a job in town and works on cars for extra money. He never got married. At some point I think he realized he was to much like his Dad and didn’t want to hurt anyone. But he’s always around fixing things at the house and making sure there’s food and the bills get paid. Now that Pa’s gone I don’t know if he’ll stick around. I’m going to talk to him about putting Ma in a home near me so I can take over and give him some peace.
Jane ran away when she was fourteen. We heard from her later. She was with a boy who graduated the year before and they went off to stay with his cousin in the next state over. I’d hear from her every now and then. Three kids and several guys later she found a man who helped her raise the kids and gave her a couple of more. He’s a good man. They showed up last night and checked into the only hotel in town. We hugged and had a laugh about how the kids are growing up.
Eventually Grandpa and Gramma passed. And then Enoch was taken in a trucking accident. He was driving on a snowy highway and got caught in a multi-car pileup. The funny thing was that he was a truck driver but was in a car driving back to his wife from a job up north. His car was sandwiched between two big rigs and that’s all she wrote. His widow is here with their kids. She’s a nice woman. She has a new husband but he didn’t come. This is her family and the kids grandparents. Some people are like that.
That just leaves me and the dog, buddy. He wasn’t a young dog when the picture was taken. Pa gave him to Ma before I was born and he grew up with me hanging all over him. But as I got older and hit my stride, he got older and slowed down. I remember sitting with him in my lap as he took his last breaths. He was in pain and not getting better. The vet gave him a shot and I held him as he went to sleep for the last time.
I did well. Got a scholarship to the state college, did some wrestling, met a girl, got a job, had kids and got another dog. Sheila is in the other room with Ma. She’s good and puts up with her, but I can tell she’d rather visit her own parents. I have two girls. Margie and Betty are in high school now and have no concept of how good they have it. I’m old and lame and uncool but still there if they need me to help pick up the pieces after some boy does something stupid.
It’s about time to wheel Ma out in front of the church so we can take another big picture; this time in color.