You were given a box of artifacts once belonging to your Great-Grandfather who you’ve never known. Contained within the box is an old pocket watch, a key, some assorted personal papers and an old Brownie camera. You notice there’s still film in the camera. Take the film to get developed and write a poem about a photo you find. Or write about something found in the personal papers…or the key…or the pocket watch. You can use all of these items to include in your poem. Just see what develops.
The photograph depicts a kindly gentleman. Though he is not smiling, his mischievous eyes are bordered by tell-tale smile lines. He is flanked by my grandmother and grandfather, and holds my then-infant father in his arms. I dig deeper into my great grandfather’s musty chest, discovering several more photos, each portraying the family man I never met.
A picture of Grandma Netta and Grandpa Al’s wedding day surfaces. And then another, and another. Great-grandpa is noticeably missing. Selflessly playing photographer? I smile, and keep searching.
I open what appears to be a photo album, yet it contains no photographs. Instead, the pages contain letters from Italy, written in Grandma Netta’s brother’s hand. There appears to be several month’s worth, at least. As I skim the pages, I see, “Netta and I were invited to perform at a private party last night. All eyes were on her. She looked great, Pop. Guys are flocking. Your plan might work. Give Ma hugs from both of us. We’re having the time of our lives, yet we can’t wait to get back home to the States. We miss you both.”
Confused, and intrigued, I read on. “Since last I wrote, Netta has received two proposals of marriage. She seems agitated. She wrote Al another letter today. She’s written him every day since we arrived. Pop, I think your plan may be backfiring on you. It seems absence is making the heart grow fonder.”
My pulse quickens. Further reading confirms my suspicion: Great-grandpa sent Grandma away to Italy for an extended time as a last-ditch effort to break up her pending marriage to Al. Her brother was sent as her escort, but also to spy and report.
Though I never learned his reasons for trying to block Netta and Al’s marriage, I saw with my own eyes that he did not hold a grudge forever, and neither did they. Perhaps photographs cannot always tell stories, but they are history-sated. I’m thankful for the outcome portrayed in the photos in Great-grandpa’s chest.
… and I’ve learned to be thankful for my very existence.
Tarnished and dented; a bauble of a bygone day.
In a wooden cigar box; keepsakes both, with
little more function than that. The stem fused
to the casing, the workings have retired. But,
it has inspired me to find the link. The contents
of the box play like a road map; clues to unravel
the mystery that is my history. The key, worn and
encrusted with years of dirt and oils from feeble fingers.
It lingers in my hand for a moment, its uncertainty secured.
Papers, folded and bound with a frail rubber band
line the bottom of the box. A visa document,
possibly a first issue wrapped in a tissue to protect
what it meant to an old Polish immigrant determined
to become all that America had to offer. Naturalization
documents, meant to pronounce his acceptance
of a lifestyle long sought, and their acceptance of him
as one of the free and brave. The camera buried amongst
the treasures, bellows cracked and torn, a forlorn
instrument with which a part of his life had been preserved.
It all deserved a better fate, but it is too late to shed
a single tear from your eyes for its demise. The puzzle
is splayed before you, the detective of your past.
A torn swatch of a fabric, hues faded but shades
of blue and red and white pressed between pages.
Finally, one last piece remains. A photograph.
a dark and handsome young man; heavy jacket and
a fedora pulled down across the brow. Intermingled
with other similar folk unconcerned for their purpose.
But the subject stands tall. Proud. Posed to save
this moment in memory, and upon this daguerreotype
for long after. In the background, Lady Liberty stands strong.
In his hand an American flag clutched to his chest.
A chain from buttonhole to vest pockets and a key as a fob,
a cinch to keep his pride from bursting. It insinuates
the only part missing was the watch that sat tucked
close to his left hand. A trinket; a remembrance
of the father he had left behind in Igolomia, Poland
to claim his dream. It remains strong in your own heart
as the box that holds your Great-Grandfather’s declaration secure.
You are sure the timepiece marked his life as well as your own.