On the road...again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
An Old Photo From Home
Ask who? what? where? when? why? and how? ...and a story starts to develop
The photo above was put into the hands of the Footloose Forester only a couple of hours before it became the foundation of a Legacy Story that he is excited about writing. Brother Paul stopped by with the photo in his hand, and that was all it took to get the ball rolling. Entering the photo into a digital format was the highest priority, thus it was the first thing in mind as this story undergoes its first draft.
The exact place where the 1940s era photo was taken stands out clearly in the mind of the Footloose Forester because he linked it to a Google Earth satellite photo of the site. In the Google Earth software of high-resolution photos taken worldwide, it is possible to zoom in close enough to see cars and even people walking on the street. In this case, an excavation of the wooded area just beyond the Pellek property line in 2006 made for an ideal opportunity to see the site with before-after coverage. For a curious Footloose Forester who lived there for about 40 years, the urge to see what eventually developed there was overpowering. A couple of tentative postings have recently been shared with the Google Earth Community of like-minded devotees who re-visit past haunts via geo-spatial searching. To those interested, the map coordinates of the old Pellek homestead site are: latitude 40.895272 and longitude -74.709688.
The family photo shown above brings back memories, as it should. But until now, the Footloose Forester did not have a copy, so was unable to put a historical context to it. And seeing the sharp shapes of the glacial rocks that emerged from the ground is a reminder that our family lived on the very spot where a field geology class could rightfully be conducted today.
Any photo having personal meaning can also touch a nerve that leads to that place in the brain where memories are hard-wired. For example, by looking at this photo more closely than he did the first few times, the Footloose Forester can say with confidence that the tree in the background is a crab apple belonging to our neighbors who lived in the white house. We children waited eagerly each summer for the opportunity to snack on its tiny, tart apples. The bushy plant at the right of the house is a begonia, although at the time we didn't call it by its name. The branches of a tree seemingly hanging over the begonia belonged to a Bartlett pear, the same kind we had in our back yard. And just below the lower window of the house is a place where Footloose Forester spent many hours sitting on the cool moss with his jackknife. The spot in Uncle Freddy's lawn was cool and shady, so much so that grass wouldn't grow there, but moss would. A smooth patch of moss was ideal for sticking the blade of his jackknife deep into the soil, in a game of mumbly peg. Since he was a loner even at an early age, Footloose Forester usually played there alone.
Mom tried to grow forsythia on the stony bank behind us, and the scrawny plant on the right is one of them. Other forsythias behind our house did much better because the soil was better. Even getting the grass to grow in our lawn was a bit of a problem, however; what with the outcropped boulders and stony topsoil. The spot was, after all, the site of the terminal moraine of the Wisconsin Glacier.
In later years, Footloose Forester got plenty of chances to mow the lawn and remembers two of the largest boulders that remained embedded too deeply for Dad to pry them out. Over the course of a decade or more, Dad did manage to dig out the smaller ones and subsequently leveled the ground and planted grass seed. But because he worked two full- time jobs, he was gone most of the time and the rocky ground had to wait.
By now the memories of our modest home on Church Street have begun to gush. Each small memory seems to link to another one. The process began with an inspection of the photo above and then asking: who?, what?, where? when? and associated questions. The answers formed the framework for a legacy story that is just now starting to take form.
Photojournalists begin with their snapshots and video strips. Each of us can be photojournalists with respect to our own family legacy stories, but the text that accompanies our photos can make our stories come alive in a way that a mere image cannot. Only insiders and those with personal knowledge can make the interpretations that are vital. According to an acient Chinese proverb, "A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees." Will we be wise enough to see the legacy stories that can emerge from old family photos?