Memories are composed of small details. I understood that after Pops died. As I looked through photographs that I had carelessly snapped of his feet or hands or shoes, I realized that those kinds of details are the ones that make a person unique. Portraits are nice, but what we really remember about a person is the way he holds his hands or wears his boots even after they are worn out. How he sits. How he squints. Every wrinkle in his face is familiar to us. Our snapshots have preserved them for us. Photograph the details. Those photographs will become your best memory of the person who was here once.
Pops always sat with his forefinger on his forehead. Always when he was thinking about something. Otherwise, he sat with both hands on his knees. He wore the knees out on his jeans long before the jeans wore out. The knees were always lighter than the rest of the jeans. His father had the same habit.
Pops loved the dogs. He sat with, napped on the sofa with, and generally always had one hand on a dog. We had a cat whose name was Dumpy once. He slept under Pop’s beard when he was a tiny kitten. When he grew up, he napped behind Pop’s head or curled up under his arm. Pops was a sofa dweller. The animals loved him. They could always find him there when he was at home. Even the parrot ventured down to the sofa to peck his arm occasionally or to beg for a snack. Pops was a snacker too.
Details allow us to remember how a person played too. This photograph doesn’t mean anything to a person who didn’t know Pops or what he was always doing to play with his grandson. I remember. Boy will remember too.
I suspect that most grandfathers put their hands on the grandbaby’s head. Pops did. To this day, Boy tells me to “follow the head” when he wants me to hold onto his head so that I will follow him wherever it is that he wants me to go … immediately, of course. It’s a joke now, but he loved the game when he was little.
Pops had a characteristic stance. Here, Boy is trying to duplicate it. Apparently, Boy can’t get his little fat legs to bend correctly, but he’s doing a remarkable job of following Pop’s directions. I don’t know that I would have remembered how Pops always stood if I had not snapped this photograph. The image certainly wouldn’t have been as clear.
This photograph is classic Pops. The dog is about to get too big for that roost, but she’s giving it a heck of a try still. Pops watched all kinds of automobile racing all the time. The dogs watched too.
The zipper was long gone from this boot, but Pops didn’t care. The dog ate it. She ate the tops too, but not too badly. He could wear the boots. He bought new pairs of shoes of the same kind for when the old ones wore out. Then, something would always come along to convince him to wear a new pair. Once he took the new pair out of the box, he got confused and started wearing both pairs. It was not unusual for him to have two or three pairs of identical shoes in his closet in various stages of wear. I always wondered how he knew which shoe went with which. He probably simply put one shoe on each foot and forgot about it. Pops wouldn’t have concerned himself with such frivolous details.
Boy often sat so close to Pops that he could rest his foot on Pop’s shoe when they were sitting on the bench outside.
Everybody has a dream. Pops dreamed of having his own airplane. He never learned to fly and never bought the airplane. I really don’t know why he never did. Anyway, for one of his last birthdays I gave him ah hour’s flight in an airplane. He sat in the front cockpit and the pilot sat in the back. He got to handle the controls for a long time. The pilot was a young woman so I am sure he charmed her right into it. He loved it. In the photograph, another pilot is giving him instructions.
This is Rita. She is an Amazon parrot. The angle is not flattering to her. Her head is not bigger than her body in real life. She was visiting outside one day when she flew down to the ground, walked over to Pops, and climbed onto his shoe for safety. She sat there for a very long time. Pops never held her, but he shared snacks with her and helped her to get back up on her perch when some loud noise scared her off.
Typical position for Pops to find himself in. This cat lived next door with our daughter, but he came over sometimes. Pops liked him and always sat and petted him and discussed world affairs with him, I suppose. I don’t pet cats much. I never saw anybody except Pops put his arm around a cat. He would sit there with his hand on the cat talking away with the most serious expression on his face. Apparently, the cat enjoyed the conversation.
Pops kept longhorn cattle. He started out with two bulls. One white one and one brown one. He named the brown one Tom and the white one Jerry. Tom is a baby in this photograph. Pops is telling him how big his horns will grow one day and how pretty he will be. The horns did grow to a huge set and Tom grew so huge and fat that the kids started calling him “Fat Butt” to distinguish him from the rest of the little herd. Jerry, the other longhorn bull, always came running up to Pops’ golf cart to drink from the iced tea cup that was always in the cup holder. He would have gotten into the cart too if he’d been smaller. The kids still keep the longhorns, and new babies are born each year. Some are spotted like the longhorns that you see in photographs from Texas.
Pops bought a pair of reading glasses once. They had bifocal lenses. When he tried to read, the page looked lopsided. The opthamologist told him to buy glasses at Walgreen’s Drug Store since he only required reading glasses. The problem was that all of the frames were too small for his head. Never mind. He simply bought the hinged kind so he could spread them wide enough to go onto his head. They looked ridiculous, but he didn’t seem to notice. He always had a pair pushed up on top of his head or pushed down on his nose. Sometimes, he even looked through the lenses.
Vague, softened and fleeting images of the people who are no longer with us are always in our heads. And, they are sweet, but it is ever so much sweeter to have recorded memories of the eccentric habits and characteristic details too. Those images are the ones that make us laugh. They are the ones that make us happiest in our remembrance of them. Snap often and well. You will be happy that you did.