They say every picture has a story to tell.
On the surface, this one nothing special, really.
Two brothers sitting on a couch, apparently watching television back when that was probably a thrill. Underneath all those blankets, my Daddy is holding a baby in his lap, giving her a bottle.
Could that baby be me?
That possibility rocks my soul to the core. If it is, this is the only picture we have of him holding me.
For a little girl with no memories of my own, this is priceless.
Either way, I love this picture. For its simplicity. For who is in it. For what it shows, and what it does not.
Just two brothers, hanging out in a living room. Raising their families together. The way it was meant to be.
Daddy died from a car accident on November 15, 1967.
His older brother, Jerry, died from a motorcycle accident on November 14, 1968.
We all grew up in the shadows of this truth.
Still, we will never fully understand it.
But that doesn’t stop me from trying.
Because it’s November. And this is what I do.
I study pictures, and allow myself to imagine:
It’s a lazy summer Saturday, sometime after lunch. Daddy rests on the sofa, giving me a bottle with little effort. It’s easier the second time around.
Jerry yawns, suddenly aware that the house is too quiet. Baby Steven is down for a nap, but that rarely lasts long enough. .
Outside, Jeanna squints in the sunlight, peering from between Mommy’s legs, her left hand twiddles the ends of her ponytail. She’s the shy one; never sure what to do around the boy cousins.
Mommy lifts her up so she can see better, but Jeanna buries her head into her shoulder instead.
Aunt Betty steers Charlie around on his tricycle, trying to keep him out of the street. Tiger circles them all on his bike. The training wheels about ready to come off, wobbling him back and forth across the grass. He jumps off the bike, letting it stop on its own.
“I’m thirsty. Can I have a drink?” he asks.
“Sure, let’s go inside.” Betty answers.
Tiger clamors inside before she can finish the sentence. The screen door slams behind him.
“Watch the door. Your brother is sleeping.” She calls after him, more out of habit than of hope that he will listen. It’s too late anyway.
Charlie follows in his brothers footsteps while Betty careens the bike and tricycle together by the sidewalk.
Mommy takes Jeanna inside, stepping around the open refrigerator door, where Tiger is trying to pour his own drink.
Jerry scoops Charlie into his arms as he steps into the kitchen. “Need some help there, Son?”
“I got it.” Tiger answers, sloshing the red kool-aid pitcher back to the counter. Betty pushes the refrigerator door shut as she enters the kitchen.
Jerry rustles his fingers through Tiger’s sweaty hair. Charlie reaches for the pitcher of kool-aid, so his Daddy rummages through the cabinets to find a cup with a lid.
In the living room, Mommy places Jeanna on the couch, standing next to Daddy. I’m asleep on Daddy’s shoulder, so Mommy reaches to take me into the hallway, away from the impending noise.
Steven cries from the back bedroom. Betty rushes past Mommy to get to him, before he wakes me up.
After Betty changes him, she carries Steven on one hip into the living room. His hair bounces as she walks. The automatic twinkle slowly returns to his deep brown eyes. Betty sets him down in the kitchen.
Mommy and I settle into the rocker in Steven’s room. The door is cracked just enough to hear the voices and laughter from the living room.
Jeanna cuddles in Daddy’s lap, facing him, her hands clutched against his chest. She giggles when Steven toddles into the room, wearing nothing but a diaper.
Jerry has returned to his corner of the sofa. Steven climbs onto the couch and quickly finds his way underneath the crook in his Daddy’s arm. Charlie stands between Jerry’s legs, propping his elbows on his elbows on his Daddy’s knees.
Tiger lays crossways on a recliner across the room, about to realize he’s bored. Aunt Betty leans against the doorway with her hand on one hip.
Daddy pokes Steven in the belly. Steven chuckles. Charlie takes the cue and does the same from the other side. Tiger meets his Daddy’s eyes from across the room, then jumps to his feet.
Uncle Jerry scoots Charlie over and drops to his knees on the floor. Tiger jumps on his back, then Charlie does the same.
Jeanna twists around in Daddy’s lap so she can see better.
Aunt Betty jumps back as the conglomeration of Jerry, Tiger and Charlie rolls toward her in a fit of laughter. Steven slides off the couch to join his brothers.
Daddy slips Jeanna off his lap, then grabs Steven and collapses in the other direction.
Jeanna watches for a few seconds, kicking her legs to and fro. She scoots off the edge and jumps into her Daddy’s arms, willing to try this wrestling thing after all.
“Shhh. You’ll wake the baby.” Aunt Betty cautions.
But it’s too late.
I can hear every beautiful minute of it.
The most wonderful sound I’ve ever heard.
If every picture has a story to tell, this is the story I choose for this picture. And it’s my favorite.
For Tiger, Charlie, Steven and Jeanna. Because it still matters. I love each of you.
For Mom and Aunt Betty. Because you are amazing.
For Daddy and Uncle Jerry. Because it’s November. And I hope you know how much we love you.