I brought out the old picture album right after dinner. Eagerly, the two families gathered around, some kneeling behind the flowered sofa to look over the broad shoulders of my cousin Lorin as he turned the stiff pages.
This was the first time for our families to get acquainted. Because Lorin settled in Washington state we had been together only once in the past thirty years. Now he had resettled only 120 miles from us in Southern California. My mother, living about mid-way, invited both families to share Sunday dinner together. Our families hit it off from the start. Especially his teenage daughters and my single sons. I had no idea this reunion would result in new insight into God’s love for us.
Now with dinner finished the big picture album I’d brought along was the focus of attention. I thought of how close we came to losing this visual collection of memories. Several ragged-edged snapshots lay before us. A young woman with jet black hair wound casually on the back of her head sat on a huge tree stump. In one picture the lanky, handsome man held one of her hands. In another he bent to kiss her.
“Imagine Grandma and Grandpa kissing in public, back then,” Lorin laughed.
“This was their engagement day,” I offered. I had seen the pictures often, and as a child had frequently seen Grandma and Grandpa kiss. I never before realized this was an unusual pose for an unmarried couple in 1912.
Lorin continued, slowly turning the pages. He found pictures of his mother Ruth as a baby, then Ruth as a two-year-old with baby Dorothy, my mother. The little girls in their Easter dresses.
Then came giggling girls in their flapper dresses; snapshots of picnics in the Colorado mountains. Then my favorite: Grandpa and Grandma sitting before their brick fireplace, Mom and Aunt Ruth as early teenagers, Grandma in her ever-present pearl necklace, and Grandpa in his business suit.
Following were pages filled with pictures of Lorin’s family at their country home during childhood. His sister Laurie, only six months younger than I. Lorin and his two younger sisters, barefoot and windblown. As he turned the pages we watched their family grow up.
Occasionally Lorin told a story behind a particular snapshot, taking us all back into the ’40s and ’50s.
Then followed pages of my family, with my sister and two brothers, many in our Easter finery. The years unfolded and memories crept out of hiding. There we were at the beach burying my brother Don in sand up to his chin.
“Do you remember the biscuit eating contests you boys had in the chicken dinner house at Knott’s?” I asked as Lorin turned to one page of photos at the amusement park. We all laughed as I recounted the youthful competition.
I watched the years advance before me through wedding pictures, college graduations, and baby pictures. I thought too of the sorrows we each had endured, including the divorces of both sets of parents. I mentally tallied the descendants of Grandma and Grandpa: two daughters: nine grandchildren, nineteen great grandchildren and so far, eleven in the newest generation.
After the last picture Lorin slowly closed the book. “Whose book is this?” he asked.
“It’s mine…, I guess,” I ventured. I had not thought of ownership.
I decided to start at the beginning. “I put it together for Grandma and Grandpa’s 50th wedding anniversary. It was a surprise for them. I wrote to each of the cousins and asked for pictures. You probably sent some to me.”
“I don’t remember doing so. When was that,” Loren asked.
I quickly calculated. “It was 1964.”
“I was in the Coast Guard then. You probably couldn’t locate me.”
I went on, “In his last five years Grandpa made many additions to this book. In a fire that destroyed many of Mom’s things, the album cover was burned and the edge of each page was badly scorched,” I explained. “Mom returned it to me and I eventually removed all the pictures and put them in this new album. I guess that makes it twice mine.”
That phrase has a familiar ring, I thought.
For several days after our family gathering the phrase rattled around in my mind, looking for the right memory to attach itself to. About a week later the significance of the phrase suddenly came to my mind.
Twice Mine! A story Dad used to tell when he held children’s meetings in various churches when I was a small child. I had been only four or five years old when he quit leading them. I’d forgotten the details of the story, but not the message:
A little boy lovingly carved a boat, painstakingly painted it and added a colorful sail. While sailing it one day, the boat got away from him and drifted downstream. Later he saw his boat bearing a price tag in a store window. When he asked the merchant to return it to him, the man insisted the boy pay for it. Eventually the boy earned enough money to redeem the boat and once again it became his.
“Walking home he hugged the boat to himself,” Dad would tell us children. “Twice mine, It’s twice mine. It was mine when I made it, and it’s mine ’cause I bought it.”
When Dad told the story he would say that each person is like the boat. God made us, but we got away from Him when we sinned. So He bought us back, through the death of His Son, Jesus. “That makes us twice His,” Dad would emphasize.
I looked across the room at the picture album. I had made it as an expression of love for my grandparents. Grandpa added to it and gave it His own characteristics. Newer pictures were not symmetrically placed on the pages. He squeezed some in at the margins, overlapped others. The album certainly reflected Grandpa’s touch, I thought. How like us. God made us, and in love gave us to our parents. They added the imprints of their influence upon us.
Like the fire-scarred album, many of us are damaged in our spirits and personalities. When we return to our Maker He delights to have us back, loving us as we are. Yet He sees great potential in each individual. He carefully and lovingly reshapes us. Like I did with the album, God takes away only the damaged and soiled parts of our being and uses that which we’ve added to produce the person He knows we can be.
© Beverly Caruso