The Story Behind the Photo

Nostalgia often gets a bum rap.  There is nothing particularly wrong with looking back at our history with a tint of those rose colored glasses.  Sometimes the rose color isn’t even there we merely cherish the specific memory of another time and place that had brought us great happiness or contentment or maybe a sense of accomplishment.  Even the worse of us will usually have a moment or two where we got it right even if it was more accident than design.  As they say it is the results that count.  If were are really fortunate we have someone in our family clan that got it right most of the time not just occasionally and they laid down the marker for their progeny to follow.  Following the marker can be frustrating for that progeny that strays or doesn’t quite stay the true course.

That photo is almost 70 years old now.  It was clearly made with one of the good quality Brownie Kodaks of the day.  Professionally done but not something the neighborhood doctor would have gotten.  This was from the bargain basement at Sears more than likely.  Over the decades it has faded a bit from the sunlight.  It now has a sepia quality to it.  It is a formal photo of the family like was favored at that time.   Somehow they pulled it off by looking relaxed and even enjoying themselves.  It is not so stiff and stilted as many of that genre.  Even the toddler looks content and happy as though he was getting a brand new toy.

She is twenty and dressed in one of her snappiest dresses.  One of only a few other than the routine house dresses as they were called then.   Her round face is framed with her hair; her smile dazzles.  She has done her hair.  Not at a salon, that would have been way out of reach financially but she has it worked and it is full and vibrant.  Her smile tells it all though.  It is not forced.  It is not a camera smile.  She is happy at this moment.    She is with him and her son is there, life couldn’t be better than this.  As always there was not advance notice of his arrival other than a call on the road as he hitch hiked from New Orleans.   The letters were steady in dating but their delievry was sporadic and delayed by weeks or even longer on occasion.  

He is in his dress whites.  It is spring of ’44.  He has been in the Mediterranean, North Atlantic and the Gulf since the winter of ’42.  This is only his second trip home.   For the photo he wore the whites because they were the nicest things he had to wear.  At home was just jeans and work shirts and skivvy shirts.  He didn’t like wearing the uniform, he wore it enough, but she wanted them all to look their best for the photo.   He is smiling because he is with her, near her.  The Navy has even given hima new tooth so he can smile without being shy about it.  It is not a dream this time, he can feel the warmth of her next to him.  He feels incredibily lucky and happy to be right there but uncertain how he fits into the picture.   He has been aboard ship about 12 out of the last 18 months.  That little guy was only a few weeks old when he left for boot camp on Lake Michigan.  He wants to make her happy but he wants to get this photo done so they can have time together before he has to leave again in less than two days.  That hard and lean look did reflect the steel of his character and strength of his determination for the to finish this war and then the life to follow.   His later success came as no surprise to those that knew him then.

The little guy is about 18 months old and dressed ina play jumper outfit.  It might even be borrowed.  She only had the pay he sent home and the little she had earned at the Ford plant.  Even with combat pay and promotions he still was only getting about $78 a month at this time.   With the rationing and difficulty getting baby shoes someone had gone to a lot of trouble and expense  to have him looking his best.  He is not crying or looking off at the moon but seems to sense the happiness in the air and serenity of the moment.  He is smiling and looking straight up and out, making his momma proud.  The suit is pin-stripped with a built in belt around the middle.  Hair is combed and you would have thought he was a Rockefeller.

It was only one brief moment in time.  But it did happen and it was real.  Regardless of future dangers of the war and struggles with finances at home, they had this moment.  Then with the blessing of God and their devotion to decency and hard work they had many more such moments for another 42 years. 

That photo hangs on my hallway wall now.  Mom doesn’t appreciate it like I do.  She says it reminds her too much of the War and the bad times of it.  Dad has crossed the bridge to discuss it all with the Lord.   It doesn’t bother me in the least to say I can get lost in my own reverie when I pass it even if only for a few seconds.  But those seconds always lift me.

Honor thy father and thy mother.



Filed under Culture, family, War

2 responses to “The Story Behind the Photo

  1. Anonymous

    My father, MSGT. Ronald E. Thomlinson was killed aboard the USS Paul Hamilton Liberty Ship. One interesting piece which I read on one of the sites, was that 1 partial body was recovered on the deck of one of the other ships in the fleet. He is buried in Wichita Falls, TX.

    Putting over 500 men on a munitions ship was one of the many poor judgement calls made during the war. But, one must remember, many decisions were made by young inexperienced commanders who made quick, though irrational, decisions throughout the war time. Excuses? I’ll leave that up to others to judge in the jungles of history.

    Larry Ronald Thomlinson

    • olcranky

      My father served in the Armed Guard during the War so he was on several different Liberty
      Ships in the Atlantic, Med and even the Pacific in the winter and spring of ’45. They did go in harm’s way more than many realize.

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