As I have several times in the past. and more frequently leading up to this September, I’ve pulled several time-worn photos from a folder. It’s hard not to stare at the faces in those images.
Three young women – aged 22, 23 and 25 – are in one of those photos. The three are walking stride for stride across a grassy lawn speckled with dandelions. Each wears a big smile and carries a baby, wrapped in a blanket.
Alongside that small black and white photo is another. In that one is an older woman with the contented look of a grandmother. Sprawled at her feet are three babies, each sitting contentedly in the grassy, dandelion-laced field.
Another photo, this one in color, also lies before me and it completes a story that has many missing pages. It shows those three babies from so many years before, this time grown and standing side by side with wide smiles on their faces. The three young women shown carrying the three so many years ago, have all passed away.
I’m one of those babies being carried in that worn black and white photo taken as World War II raged in Europe and in the Pacific. The three young women are the three oldest daughters of Charlie and Hattie (Hildal) Knox. Sarah Smith, 25, carries Russell, her third born child; Ruth Blair, 23, carries her third born child, Virginia; and at left in the photo is Lela Haglund, carrying her first-born child and that is me.
The other black and white photo shows our grandmother, Hattie, with a look that shows pride in the newest additions to the Knox clan.
The four women in the photo are all gone now – my grandmother was just 60 when she passed away in 1960; my mother was the first to pass 10 years ago. Ruth and Sarah both lived to be 100. They were inseparable in the last years of life, living together in a home in Iowa Falls. Ruth’s eyes were failing and Sarah’s hearing was nearly gone during the last few years of life. The joke among the family when someone spoke to them was that Ruth would look at Sarah and yell, “Who’s that?” and Sarah replied, “What?”
The third photo lying before me was taken last year at my aunt Ruth’s passing.
Again, the three of us stood side-by-side – Russell Smith, Ginny Price and me. Our smiles were real, just as real as they would have been more than seven decades earlier. Russell is the “old” man of the three, born in July of 1943; both Ginny and I came along that September. I beat Ginny by two weeks.
Although we’ve reached our milestone birthdays about the same time every year, the three of us have never marked those birthdays. We’ve lived our separate lives, getting together periodically through the years. I’d meet Russ at the old thresher’s gathering annually near Booneville a few years back. Ginny came to visit me in the hospital during one of my stays and periodically we’d meet at a family gathering.
Lately, unfortunately, it’s been family funerals that have caused the family to meet.
Russ’ dad, Lyle Smith, passed away many decades ago; my dad, Carl, has been gone for more than half a century; Ginny’s dad, Gerald, passed away more than a decade ago. But, our mothers were the first three of seven sisters who’ve passed away. The other four sisters are still just as full of vinegar as always.
Russ, Ginny and I are forever bonded by age and family. We “swam” in an old wash tub when we were toddlers, we ran and played together at annual family gatherings at the park in Jewell and we’ve always had hugs for each other when we’d occasionally meet through the years.
Now, it’s time to plan.
If we can, we’ll meet sometime in September to celebrate our 75th birthdays. Russ still lives near Iowa Falls. Ginny has lived in Des Moines for a long time, and my wife, Judy and I have called Waukee home for about 15 years. If we can figure out a date, Judy, Ginny and I will drive to meet Russ and his wife, Gilda, for a 75th birthday luncheon.
That’ll probably be in Story City or Ames – those are good points to meet.
So, fair warning. If, in the next several weeks, you see three older folks smiling, giggling and taking photos, don’t panic. It’ll probably just be Russ, Ginny and me reminiscing about old times, and all the gray hairs we gave our mothers along the way.