The Things a Picture Holds

faves (21)

This is a picture of my dad teaching me and my brother how to carve a pumpkin. He was a great dad. Involved, caring, a good teacher. You can see by the way I’m sitting on my hands and my brother is leaning over to look that we were in awe of the whole lesson. And the fourth person, my mom, behind the camera – realizing when moments were worth capturing, encouraging all of us to do things that were special enough to remember.

Halloween was always special in my household. It was a season of change and excitement and mischief. The Texas heat finally began to ease, sending all the fallen leaves to be raked into great piles we could play in. I remember one year, when we were a little older, my dad told us he’d pay us some small amount (maybe a dollar) for every big black trash bag we filled with raked leaves. My brother found some old bags by the side of the house near the trellises in the picture and added them to our final stack. (Trick.) I felt guilty and told my dad. He thought it was so clever he gave us the money for those bags anyway. (Treat.)

One of my earliest memories of the holiday is decorating the front porch of the house we lived in when this photo was taken. (This picture is on the back deck, which my dad built himself. He taught me all I know about tools, building, and things of that nature.) We had a big purple spider made of cardboard and crepe paper that we had to carefully unfold and bend around to fasten with brads so he became 3D. We stretched and spread that fake spider web stuff all over the place. I remember the way thet fibrous material clung to the rough texture of the bricks, the almost-sound it made when you pulled it off to readjust it. Then we put the spider right in the middle, guarding the porch.

We had two life-sized (death-sized?) ghosts, too. They were made of old white sheets. My dad stuffed the center of the sheets with crumpled newspaper to make their heads, tying them off with fishing line. Then we drew on scary faces with a permanent marker that smelled like solvent. He hung them on the porch too, using one of those old silver staple guns to spread their ‘arms’ out to the wooden house trim. My brother and I would watch and helpfully comment on positioning – when we didn’t get distracted and start playing with rolly pollies. The wind carried the loose ends of the ghosts and made them look like they were floating.

I was delightfully grossed out every time I ever felt pumpkin guts – even to this day. Back then we’d scoop them into the green plastic bowl you see in the picture: the throw-up bowl. That bowl was the designated yuck holder. A place for messes too atrocious for the kitchen sets, used for pumpkin slime and green pea pods. I have strangely fond memories of it sitting at the ready next to the recliner when I was sick – maybe because I got to watch movies and sleep in the living room – and of my mom bleaching the bowl countless times over the years. I think it was a coincidence that it was that shade of green, but it never seemed like it when I was a kid.

I remember choosing the jack-o-lantern faces. My brother and I would draw our designs on a piece of construction paper and Dad would draw them on the pumpkins with a pencil before he cut them out. When we got old enough we tried our hands at it too, and quickly learned that it’s harder than it looks to carve a good pumpkin face.

The set of table and chairs in the picture, with the metal frame and the wooden slats, was nice enough back then to sit on our deck, but by the time we moved to the country it was weather-beaten and wobbly. We put it out in the woods by our fire pit, and there it stayed. When we sold the house we left them for the new owners. I wouldn’t be surprised if they took them all straight to the landfill, but I’d like to think they sat in them at least a few times around an autumn fire, smores ingredients stacked on the table nearby.

Even the plants in the background, the deep green ones to the right: those are called cast-irons, and they came from my Gammy’s house (my mom’s mom; an expert gardener). Many people don’t even realize they can be outside plants, but that’s all I know them as. When we moved to the country, these plants came with us. And when my husband and I moved to our current home, they came with us again. The cast-irons are where all the lizards lived that my brother used to catch and name. Sometimes he’d let them bite his earlobes and hang from them like living earrings.

And the window above the cast-irons that juts out: that was in our dining room behind the table. It was full of potted plants and our two fish bowls (Red Fish and Blue Fish). My brother and I used to hide our vitamins back there when we didn’t want to take them. Those chewable Flintstones things tasted awful. If we left them in a spot with moisture they would semi-melt into a ring of pink or green powdery paste.

I don’t remember the exact day this photo was taken; I was probably too young. But I do remember all that’s pictured in it and the myriad stories and jokes and tall tales that come with them. I remember the anticipation, the joy, the love. To almost anyone else, this might seem like a normal snapshot of two cute kids with their dad. To me, it’s so much more. It’s amazing, if you think about it, how many things a single picture holds.

I’m wishing you all your own fond memories, old and new, this October.

Share this:
This entry was posted in Personal and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.
  • Melissa Crytzer Fry

    What a touching post for so many reasons, Annie. I love that you see so much in this photo – and that you share those memories of melting Flinstones and rapt pumpkin-carving attention with us. Our Halloweens weren’t really celebrated – aside from trick or treating and a bit of pumpkin carving, which – sadly – I can’t even remember! I love that your love of the season is rooted in family memory.

    Photos are ALWAYS, always, more than they first appear – especially to those in them. What a great reminder of their value.

    • Thank you! I’m not at all surprised that you’re the first to speak on the value of photos, Melissa, given how many beautiful ones you take yourself. 🙂

  • jclementwall

    What a beautiful post. I love all that you see in this photograph. Makes me want to look through my old family photos and see ALL there is to see – so much more than the smiling faces that are always in the middle.

    And seriously… no one gets me excited about Halloween like you do, Annie. Thank you!

  • Julia Munroe Martin

    I love this so much. I don’t remember any pumpkin carving with my parents, but I sure do with my kids — and I like to think they’d have the same kind of wonderful memories you do. You’re right, that picture really tells so many stories, and one of the things I love the most about it is the relaxed and candid moment your mom captured of the three of you in such a happy tradition — the rapt and mesmerized looks on both you and your brothers’ faces. What a great idea for a blog post!

    • Oh, I’m sure they will! If not of pumpkin carving, then of something equally special. Thanks Julia!

  • Pumpkin guts gross me out too. I figured the pic was you and your dad, rocking a 70s style mustache, before you explained. He sounds like a great guy. It’s nice to have memories preserved through pictures. I’ve moved so many times I have almost no pics left of me as a child. Sad, but life is in the here and now for me. 🙂

    • Hehe! It is a 70’s ‘stache, isn’t it? This was in the late 80’s/early 90’s though, and he kept that mustache for the rest of his life. He totally pulled it off, though. 🙂

      It is sad that you have so few pictures, but there’s something to be said for living grounded in the present, too.

  • Julie Sondra Decker

    Wonderful. I’m a hugely nostalgic person who keeps a LOT of photos and memories at the ready, and this did such a great job bringing back all the connections you have to every aspect of this moment. And if I may digress (because I always do), I think looking at photos and connecting memories with stories behind them can be a good writing exercise. If you look through a photo album from your youth and think of all the stories to tell, you should get some idea of how layered and full a character’s life should be too, and that can remind you how lives unfold and how to present them.

    As for me, I never liked carving pumpkins, but I did love making the trick-or-treat bags to hand out to neighborhood kids–always did that with my mom–and she would make our costumes. To this day Halloween is my favorite holiday.

    • Thanks Julie! That’s true; it makes a great writing exercise to establish depth of character. Making trick-or-treat bags is a sweet memory too; lucky kids in your neighborhood!

  • A. B. Davis

    This is very special, Annie. I love reading of your awe for the season and the memories of your father. I feel all of this nostalgia, and I just can’t put a word to it the way you do. This post seriously choked me up. Beautiful. Thank you.

  • Peggy

    What a wonderful nostalgic post! We bought that patio set for $79 at Furrows – I think we got our money’s worth:) I have some of the Cast Iron plants (Aspidistra) in my yard now, and they bring back such good memories of Mamma. Thanks for the sweet memories. You made my day with your appreciation!!!

    • Kalli

      I remember furrows!! Don’t think they’re around anymore??
      Annie, this is a beautiful post. I miss you guys! Your dad holds the dearest, most special place in all of our hearts. Kal

      • Me too! It’s where the Sam’s club/movie theatre are now. That place was great. And thank you so much! I miss y’all too!

    • Thanks Mom! That *is* money well spent. And you’re welcome. I think it must be hard to be the sole picture-taker in a family, since you end up in so few photos even though you’re always there. Just wanted to let you know I remembered. 🙂

  • Cynthia Robertson

    So many wonderful memories, Annie! Your reminisces bring back great memories of my own childhood. Thank you for that! 🙂

  • Natalia Sylvester

    What a beautiful picture, Annie. I love that one special moment frozen in time can bring out so many memories. I have pictures like this, too, and sometimes it makes me wonder if that’s something future generations will miss out on, because nowadays it’s so easy to take pictures of anything, that the pictures of the real important moments get lost in hard drives and iphones. But I feel lucky that we have the pictures we do. P.S. Your dad sounds like a really amazing guy.

    • He really was. 🙂 I think you have a great point about the digital photos, etc. I worry about that sometimes, but then again I’ve captured some really special photos on my phone that I would never have otherwise, so I guess it’s a mixed blessing.

  • Carie Juettner

    I was sure that I commented on this piece last year when you posted it, but now it appears that I didn’t. I loved it then and I love it again now, on the re-read. I hope you don’t mind if I link to it in an upcoming Halloween-related post?

    • Of course I don’t mind! This is a sweet comment to find. Thank you, Carie. <3

  • Pingback: 5 *MORE* Tips For a Proper Haunting | Carie Juettner()