I Will Never Be Annie Dillard and That’s OK

newbedfordunionstreet1970(An excerpt from something that might be in progress or might not be.)

I started reading Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek on a warm spring afternoon in a seedy bar in New Bedford, Massachusetts. I was a senior in college, spending more time as a stringer for the local Standard-Times than I was spending in class or studying. I had arranged it this way. I had taken enough classes as a sophomore and junior to give myself an easy glide-path out of college.

I had filed a story that day about a car wreck. A full-time reporter had written the main story and they had given me a sidebar to write. The driver, shitfaced at 10:00 in the morning, had swerved to miss some imaginary thing in the road and had crashed into a convenience store.

The store owner, his back to the window as he stood at the cash register, never saw it coming. The car roared through the front window and crushed a candy display and knocked the lottery machine off its table and into the legs of the owner. The machine snapped one of his femurs cleanly in two.

I had been a block away when I heard it and got close enough to watch the EMTs stabilize the leg while the mean screamed and then passed out. He was screaming in Portuguese and I hardly knew a word, but I did fashion a quote out of the screaming with some help from his son. “Mamãe! Meu Deus, Mamãe!” I decided I would have been screaming the same thing.

I filed the story and walked to the bar. I had to settle my nerves. It was my second car wreck in two weeks. I had covered the first one for a local radio station where I also freelanced. They didn’t have a real night-time reporter so I went out there alone, steno pad in hand. The cop wouldn’t let me near enough to see anything, but there were two bodies on the street. Someone had produced drop cloths to cover the bodies. They were soaked through with blood. I walked a block away and puked.

I ordered a boilermaker, Old Thompson Whiskey and a 16-ounce Narragansett beer, and I pulled Dillard from my jacket pocket.

I used to have a cat, an old fighting tom, who would jump through the open window by my bed in the middle of the night and land on my chest….

(Well, heck, I used to have a cat, too! The summer Midnight went into heat—and the only summer she lived through—she would jump from roof to roof up the two-deckers lining one side of my street. She would then climb, squirrel-like, down one of the 4-by-4s that framed our back porch. She would scratch on my brother’s screen until he let her in.

That fall, Midnight wandered a bit too far onto the next block. Something got to her—a dog maybe but more likely a pack of kids—and a friend found her, scraped her into a box, and brought her to us. She was still alive, but when we got to the vet he didn’t have to look at her for very long. He tried to soften the blow for me. “It looks like you are going to have to get another kitty.”)

The boilermaker felt good enough to order a second and then a third. I soldiered on through Dillard.

The sun in the west illuminates the ground, the mountains, and especially the bare branches of trees, so that everywhere silver trees cut into the black sky like a photographer’s negative of a landscape.

“Goddamn that is good writing.” I must have said it aloud because the bartender turned to me. I wasn’t quick enough to explain myself so the bartender brought me a fourth boilermaker. I downed the shot and chased it with half of the beer before I took a breath.

At some point the bar filled with reporters, including Dave, who had filed the full story on the crash. He dropped a copy of the paper in front of me. The Standard-Times was an afternoon paper and the story I had finished writing two hours before was now miraculously in front of me, printed and folded, my byline in bold 10-point Futura.

“Six inches, my little man.” The city editor had cut my story, which I always knew would happen, but she had also cut my lede, including the first line, which I had been celebrating in my head the whole afternoon. “An otherwise perfectly normal day for Alberto Gomes took a bad turn this morning when a Buick LeSabre crashed through the front window of his Union Street convenience store.”

Dave was downing his first beer. “Don’t use adverbs. Carol fucking hate adverbs. And ‘bad turn.’ Jesus, kid, have an idea.”

Carol was the city editor. She had moved up from covering crime for nearly twenty years. She chain smoked and sounded like Robert Loggia. I had filed 20 stories with her after doing only sports for the first two years. She had lopped off every one of my ledes. Dave had tried to coach me a little. “If you like it too much, little man, it probably sucks.”

Too Good to be True

5700-raw.jpgA friend has told me that some of my stories sound fictional. “That’s just too good to be true,” she will say, and honestly, I can’t deny it. They do sound too good to be true. That’s what makes them worth telling again.

Take the time when, years ago, my angry voice mail was broadcast over the PA to my entire company. That alone could make it sound unbelievable. What made it more unbelievable was that it was loaded with f-bombs, one after another, each one directed at a different colleague. There were about 300 employees in that company. I don’t think I missed one.

The specifics of that day make it even better. I was visiting our major client, installing the latest version of our software that felt like little more than vaporware at the time. The client was furious. I was shuttling between the systems room and the editorial floor, watching every feature blow up, one after the other.

So I left the client, drove to the nearest pay phone (this was before cell phones). I poured quarters into the phone, dialed my boss. When he didn’t pick up, I just let loose. If my memory is correct, my tirade lasted for five minutes. I hung up and drove the three hours home.

Meanwhile, back in headquarters, my boss returned to his desk. By his telling, he only had to hear the first few words of my message to know what was up. He was in a day-long meeting with the senior management of that very client. They were ready to bail. We would lose the contract, maybe even be sued, if the ship couldn’t be righted. So he hit a few buttons on the phone, thinking he was transferring it to another one of the managers on our team.

He hit the wrong buttons. The message went to the PA system.

As he told the story later, there was no mistaking my voice. I have a deep voice, nasal to my ears, but he considered it quite distinctive. He also knew that everyone else knew my voice–every employee and everyone from the client. After panicking for a minute and hitting every button he could think of, he realized that maybe not all was lost. The clients were sitting in our executive meeting room. They PA didn’t work there. He took a few deep breaths and returned to the room.

Meanwhile, downstairs, the technical director from the client was in our smoking room. The PA did reach there. A friend and colleague, Dan, was in the smoking room as well. Dan was a veteran of the first Iraq war. Nothing got past him, so when he heard the start of the voice message he knew what was what. He stood up and he started singing, “New York, New York.”

I understand he sang it pretty well and he kept singing until the message was over. The client finished her cigarette and went back to the meeting.

The client never got word of it. The fallout had more to do with me insulting and denigrating every one of my colleagues. However I was well liked and everyone knew the pressure I was under. The software did suck then. I was in an impossible situation of driving three hours down and three hours back every week to install a new version of the software that didn’t work.

My boss, for his part, decided to fall on his sword. He went into our CEO’s office, told the story, and he was ready to resign but our CEO burst out laughing and couldn’t stop. Crisis averted.

Back to my friend who didn’t believe the story.

We traveled together recently to New York City. On the train back, who should be in our car but my old boss. I introduced them and asked him to the story. He told it with relish. He’s a great storyteller anyway, but he really loved this one. Almost 25 years have passed and he still told it in all its detail, reminding me of things I had since forgotten. I was vindicated.

In the workshop at Ferry Beach, our long-time facilitator Jim Ellefson offers a prompt I have long enjoyed: tell a tall tale. Wikipedia helpfully explains that “a tall tale is a story with unbelievable elements, related as if it were true and factual.” I especially like the second element, “some stories such as these are exaggerations of actual events.” I love tall tales and I write them. This one, though, happens to be true. My old boss will even tell you so.

A Christmas Story

In 1988, my wife Michele and I were a young, engaged, happy couple and looking forward to Christmas. We lived in the Brighton neighborhood of Boston at the time. Michele was working full-time at Harvard Community Health in Kenmore Square. I had cut down to three days a week in my regular job while I started on my doctoral work and did some adjunct teaching.

christmastreeThe end of the fall semester was especially hectic that year. I had taken a full course load and was teaching two classes. Christmas was coming and I was frantically writing my own papers and grading papers for 50 students. I really didn’t focus on Christmas at all until the day before. By that evening we weren’t at all ready. We didn’t even have a tree yet.

I picked Michele up in Kenmore Square after dropping off my final grades at Bunker Hill Community College. We were picturing a couple of places in Brighton Center that sold trees, but when we got there, they were closed. We were standing outside a flower shop on Washington Street. It was closed, and it had been our last chance.

I guess we were looking forlorn. I guess our predicament must have been obvious to the cop who pulled up next to us. He rolled down his window.

“I bet you are looking for a Christmas tree.”

I remember Michele answering him. “We are. Everything’s closed.”

“It’s your lucky day,” he said. “I busted a guy earlier who was selling trees illegally. Follow me. When I flash my lights, look to your left. There will be some trees behind a wall.”

We followed him up Washington Street and a few blocks up he flashed his lights. We pulled over, crossed the street, and looked over the wall. There had to have been 20 or more trees there. We called out our thank you to the cop. I think he was smiling as much as we were.

It’s nice picking out a tree when price is no object. Memory is a funny thing, but in my mind, it was a big tree. If my memory is right it was also the first real tree I ever had. We brought it back to our apartment, decorated it, put the presents under it. It was going to be a good Christmas.


001In January of 1981, I went to Greece. It was a gift from my soon-to-be in-laws. They were living there for several years for work. My fiance and I were still in school, and the trip was wedged into winter break. We left on the 7th and returned to Boston on the 28th. I was a few days late returning to class, but it was my last semester in school, and I had an easy schedule.

My in-laws paid for my ticket and we stayed in their apartment in Kolonaki, a wealthy Athens neighborhood full of restaurants and museums. They took us to Delphi and around the Peloponnese. I had lunch on the water in Nafplio. I stood in the ancient theater at Epidaurus. I visited, and revisited, the Temple of Poseidon of Sounion. It was incredibly generous of them; I appreciate it to this day.

Up to that point in my life, nothing compared. I had never ventured beyond New England and New York City. I had never flown. I had never been given three weeks to just go somewhere and explore. I was an English and Philosophy student going to what many consider to the be the roots of Western Civilization. The moment was not lost on me. Writing in a journal during the overnight flight to Athens, I marveled about “hurtling through the air, at 600 miles per hour, 41,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean, in a metal tube with wings.” I said it was like Kruschev in Disneyland; for me, it was.

I have a handful of things from that trip: a small statue of Socrates, a journal, a few dozen photographs, and the coaster pictured here. I just rediscovered the coaster when I was moving some things around in my kitchen. It’s 35 years old now. It probably cost me a dollar. It’s worse for wear. Only after scanning it did I see the crack running straight through it. I remember breaking it shortly after that marriage ended. It was a too-obvious metaphor, but I re-glued it anyway.

When my ex and I had time to spend in Athens itself, we went to the museums, shopped, and ate. It was winter and cool; it was easy to get around. I had enough spending money to do all the basics and a little extra to buy a few things. At least then, and probably now, when you want to buy both the kitschy and the non-kitschy in Athens, you go to Plaka.

I bought gifts for my family–small rugs for my mother and sister, statuettes of satyrs for my brothers, and a necklace for my grandmom. I seem to remember buying a number of these coasters and other tiles in different forms, but the rest are long gone, some from use and others, as I recall, victim to the sad little ceremony of dividing our belongings during the divorce. A sticker on the back, determined to stay on all of these years, tells me the coaster was “Hand Made by Niarchos.” I searched the web and was delighted to find pictures of some of the others I bought. I could buy some for $3.00. Maybe I will.

I re-read my Athens journal every few years, and will set out to re-read it again now. That long plane trip ended in a scary, gymnastic landing in high winds. The trip was a track meet. We did three and four and five things every day–a museum, then lunch, then shopping, then dinner, then something at night. As I wrote in my two blog entries about Sounion, the trip was both an adventure back in time and an exploration into my deep and complex feelings about my father’s death only two months before. The journal goes from exhilaration to exhaustion, without a stop in between. It’s worth another reading.


001It’s telling that we never named really named him. He arrived, half-wanted, for my sister’s 16th birthday. We debated for a few weeks about what to name him. My oldest brother, always erudite, suggested “Canis,” the genus for dogs. I was only 12, so perhaps “Puppy,” was the junior high school equivalent.We gave up trying to name him after a couple weeks. He stayed “Puppy.” He was a generic.

He was clearly a terrier, not just in looks but in spirit.  We were told he was nine-months old, but I don’t remember him growing or even changing much. He was skinny and scrappy, his coat was never quite right. His height and the spray of hair made him seem bigger than he was, but he was 25-pounds sopping wet.

My God he was fierce, though. Not long after we got him, he took on a white shepherd down the street. The shepherd guarded a house and a junkyard, making him, in fact, a junkyard dog. My friends and I were terrified of him. The shepherd, though, made the mistake of wandering too far up the street toward our house. Puppy took him on and slaughtered him. I just watched a video of a hyena taking on a zebra. The scenes really weren’t much different. The shepherd never came up the street again.

Puppy was also profligate.  I saw him in action more than a couple of times. He didn’t seem to have a type, really. Some of his playmates were bigger, some smaller, some were purebred, some were mutts like him. Puppy decided to have a date once right in the middle of one of my Pony League baseball games. We threw gloves at them, tried to chase them off; even a garden hose didn’t stop him. He finished his job. Within a couple of years, we started to notice more and more dogs around the neighborhood who looked sort of like Puppy. Picture a beagle with that spray of fur or a spaniel with Puppy’s semi-deranged look in his eyes.

When he was around us, Puppy was a sweet dog though. We were latchkey kids, and whoever made it home first was greeted with an orgasm of Puppy’s excitement. In good weather, he would have been in the yard. He would hear the side gate, make for it on a sprint, and bounce off it before we could even swing it open. He would then race to the back door, bounce off that, and come bombing back at us. Our sideyard couldn’t have been longer than 40 feet, but Puppy would repeat this again and again. He would bounce off the back door, make it back to our feet, sprint back to the door, return, and on and on. He was so quick on his feet that he could do this 15 or more times before we got to the door. It wasn’t a bad end to a day at school.

Puppy had his inner circle. He challenged friends who visited until he had met them ten or so times. He controlled the flow of the house. All friendly traffic to our house was through the backdoor into the kitchen. Only strangers rang the front doorbell. I have no doubt Puppy would have mauled every stranger he could sink his teeth into, but he seemed to know a frontal attack might not work. He was only 25 pounds after all, so he would stand behind the door as it opened and begin this low, menacing growl. He would keep at it however long the conversation at the door took. The stranger would stammer and sweat, then snap from the pressure in less than a minute, turn and leave. Puppy seemed to especially like scaring off Jehovah’s Witnesses, even the cute girl from my high school, no matter how many times I tried to tell him not to.

As attached as he was to my mom and my siblings, he made it clear that he could have happily and successfully lived on his own. He escaped the house and the yard every chance he got. If we happened to go out the front door for some reason, he always got in our legs, turned us around, and bolted out. He would do the same thing if we carelessly left the gate open for a beat too long when we were taking in the trash barrels. He would be gone for hours but would always come back.

I remember one morning when Puppy was quite a bit older. He could have even been 10 or so, because we were all busy with college and the start of our careers and were only around sporadically . My oldest brother and I happened to be at my mom’s house one weekday morning. I was eating breakfast; my brother, who was living in New York at the time, was dressed for a meeting in Boston. My mom had left for school already when a noise at the front of the house distracted me. I stepped outside to look and–bam!–Puppy bolted through my legs, down the stairs, and out to the street. I remember thinking, If he could, he would be pumping his fist!

Something must have caught Puppy’s eye, because he bolted across our little street, cut through a small used car lot, and ran straight into traffic on the main road. A big car caught up to him and ran him straight over. I watched Puppy dragged from the front of the car, along its underside, until it spit him out the back. Cars started braking, tires squealing, including the car that hit him. Puppy scrambled to his feet, turned back toward me, and sprinted back into the house.

The driver and her daughter–God bless them–were distraught. They pulled over, got out, and came right over to me. My brother had already checked on Puppy. Apart from some mussed fur and a wide stripe of engine oil and grease, he was fine. This wasn’t his first rodeo.They were inconsolable though. They hugged each other and me as if we were plain crash survivors.

“Really,” I kept saying. “He’s fine. He does this all the time.” After I repeated this about 10 times, and they finally took note that my brother and I had perfectly dry eyes, they must have concluded we were crazy people. They put away their kleenex and left.

I tell myself I am good at remembering dates, especially sad ones, but for the life of me I can’t remember how long we had Puppy. We got him in 1971. I left for college in 1977 and I am pretty sure he was still at my mom’s in the winter of 1981-1982. I was staying at my mom’s a couple of nights a week, trying to do my best dealing with a 75-mile commute I was enduring until my then-first-wife could finish school and we could move closer to my work. Puppy and my mom were largely on their own, and he had settled down. My mom could walk him and he wouldn’t pee 75 times like he did with me or pull on his leash to break away. She would walk him around our little neighborhood and he would be a perfect gentleman. If she had to stop into a store, she would just drop his leash and he would sit there, like any normal dog, and stare at the front of the store until she reappeared again.

I honestly lost track of when Puppy died. My nephew, Max, remembers being told he had gone to a farm in New Zealand. Max was born in 1977 and that’s the kind of lie you can only get away with until a kid is maybe seven, so I am guessing Puppy left us in 1983 or early 1984. I emailed one of my brothers. He didn’t have much more of a clue than I did.

Nowadays we cremate our pets, keep their ashes. My mother would have considered that vulgar, so no doubt she just paid whatever fee the veterinarian charged to put Puppy to sleep and deal with his remains.

Nowadays we also take a million pictures, but I only have that one. It’s from Christmas, 1973. The object to the right of his front paws might be a ball we had gotten him as a present, but I remember my mom freezing a bone on Christmas Eve, then leaving it out for him to find it. There’s that crazy hair of his, the wild look in his eye. There’s a detail I forgot–a tuft of white fur on his left front paw, almost as if he had stepped into some snow. It’s a terrible picture really, out of focus, fuzzy. If it’s the only picture we have of him, and, really, he deserved better.

Convenience Store

107049-alb-001The other morning I was standing in line in a convenience store near Boston University. I was late for a writing workshop but knew I would be useless without the 20-ounce coffee I cradled in my hands. Otherwise I didn’t have a thought in my head until the young man in front of me turned for a moment. I flashed to my nephew, Owen, who is a student at BU, but it wasn’t him. Even with their matching dark eyes and short brown hair, the young man in front of me was too small too and fair-skinned.

Then it all came roaring in on me. My dad was here on the GI Bill after World War 2–Jesus Christ he would have started here 70 years ago. Then my brother, Owen’s dad, was here as an undergraduate in the 1970s. Then I was here for a few years of graduate school in the 1980s. How often did we walk in each other’s footsteps? Has Owen already stood in a place where his father stood 40 years ago and his grandfather 30 years before that?

When my dad was here, BU was a much smaller school, crowded around Kenmore Square a mile to the east of where I was standing. Who knows what was in the building then? It wasn’t a convenience store–they didn’t even exist then. Maybe it was a market or a drugstore or a small bar. Maybe it was the kind of bar an older student–my dad was 21 when he started at BU–would have slipped into on a Friday afternoon after classes were over for the week and he needed a cold one.

The picture above is of my father. It was in the city somewhere, outside of what I had long ago decided was a bar. He is in a long, wool dress coat, the same kind I still wear today, the same kind I will put on the first cold morning this coming winter and will wear until spring. My father was not a big man–5’9″ and whip thin then. He weighed 140 pounds when he was discharged from the army. The coat is just a little big on him, but he has on a shirt and tie, cuffed dress pants. He has a big smile and it’s not posed–he is in mid-stride. If you look closely there is the shadow of a man in a dress hat. The man seems to be waiting for my father in the doorway. My father’s smile is for him.

You can see my father’s inscription on the bottom of the picture, “One of my happier moments.” I think of this picture often, and when I recall it from my memory, the inscription is different–it’s always, “In happier times.” Now that I read it again, “moment” feels very different from “times.” Did something happen in that moment? Was he seeing someone after a long time or was the day of some import? He’s long gone now–36 years this month–so I can never really know.

Not much went well in my father’s life a few years after this picture was taken. The war never left him. He flew as a gunner in B-17 and B-24 bombers over the Pacific and was for a while small enough to be the sorry bastard who climbed into the turret under the belly of those big shuddering planes. I can’t imagine being up there, two miles above the earth, swiveling around in that ball, blasting away.

I like to think that his years at BU were a happy time for my dad. He was back home safe in East Boston. His big brother Joe was home safe. His cousins. They all made it. They all made it back to Jeffries Point. I have other pictures of my dad from when he got back. In one he’s in his dress uniform, hugging my grandmom. In another he’s hugging a pretty girl, his uniform hat perched askew on her head.

He met my mom when he was at BU. She was at Emmanuel College down the street, but they didn’t meet in the city. Instead, they both happened to find summer work at the Mount Washington Hotel in New Hampshire. She waitressed. He helped keep the books. A city boy and a city girl, a world away in the mountains, young and healthy and free. I wonder what their romance was like. Did they carry a blanket into the woods and lay down there? Did they sneak into her room when everyone else was asleep? Did they find a radio and listen to Perry Como? Whatever they did, it worked. They graduated in 1951, married in 1952, and my oldest brother arrived in 1953.

My memories of my father are few and vague. What I know about my father after 1953 I’ve recreated from conversations with my family, from family pictures, and from his VA records. His VA record is, sadly, the richest mine, and it starts with problems he had even before he left the Pacific. Before the war ended, he was briefly hospitalized for “gastric neuritis” and then went back into battle. In 1955, he was hospitalized again for “nervous exhaustion.” By the time I came around in 1959, they were getting closer to describing it correctly. His problems were “service-connected,” they said, and “compounded by anxiety and alcoholism.”

I don’t want to tell–and you don’t want to hear–the whole tale. It was a 35-year-long car wreck that everyone saw coming and no one was able to stop. Even the doctors ran out of gas. The interventions became half-hearted, the clinical notes shorter and more rote. The last note before his suicide recorded a phone call from my father to his doctor. He was distraught and drinking heavily but neither of them seemed to know what to do. Even my father was phoning it in.

I finally got to the head of the line in the convenience store and paid for my coffee. I stepped out onto the sidewalk to the clang of the street car bell.  There was a hint of winter in the air. I thought of that picture, my dad in that long wool coat. Maybe he wasn’t stepping into a bar. Maybe he was on his way to meet my mother. Maybe she was in Kenmore Square, in a diner, drinking a coffee, her hands wrapped around the mug for warmth, her eyes scanning the street, looking for her handsome young beau.


28363_1323324928946_6679568_nI was born in 1959. That put me right in the sweet spot of what would become the new wave of inexpensive, easy to use–and even instant–photography. The Kodak Instamatic camera was introduced in 1963, and by 1970 Kodak had sold more than 50 million of them. Polaroid introduced their first color instant camera that same year.

My dad gave me an Instamatic 104 for my 9th birthday. I remember how precious each snap of the lens was–the film, flashbulbs, and development were all more than I could easily afford. I would save a little by shooting in black and white. I have a few of those picture somewhere, but it would take some digging to pull then out.

I remember one picture in particular. We were snowed in for a few days, and I was bored to tears. I decided to take a picture out my kitchen window. It was not any kind of special view; we looked out on the back of two three-deckers from the next street. One three decker was well maintained, the yard tidy, the back porches painted.

The other three-decker was ramshackle. The first floor had a corner pharmacy I would work in years later. Trash barrels and boxes crowded a small shed under the second floor porch. The building had needed a coat of paint for decades, and the grey paint had given way to rotting and blackened shingles underneath.

I pointed my camera at the ramshackle one and clicked.

When I developed the film a couple of weeks later, my oldest brother riffled through the pictures, paused at the one from the kitchen window. “What did you take this one for?” He didn’t wait for my answer before declaring. “It’s stupid. You wasted your money.” My career as an auteur was off to a bad start.

If we now live in an age where nearly everything is photographed and even filmed, I grew up in that very different age when every picture counted. Yesterday I put away the summer furniture. Our outdoor dining table bedevils me each spring when I look at the six legs, the supporting bracket, and the dozens of nuts and bolts and plastic caps that cover them. So in the fall I was always take a set of pictures of the table while it’s still assembled. Yesterday I took six–six high quality color digital photos. I do this each year. The table is six years old. Do the math.

The picture above was taken by my good friend JoAnn. I was outside our elementary school with her brother Walter and our friend Chuckie. That’s me on the left, looking all James Dean, then Walter looking a bit irritated at his sister, then Chuckie. JoAnn and I guess that it was probably fourth grade.

I love the details. My belt buckle, shirt, and pants don’t quite line up. My collar is open and my shirt seems to be a bolder print than the others. Walter looks as big and steady as he is today. Chucky is the most dapper and put together, though I can see the gleam in his eye that made him the wildest among us. Chucky become the kid with the motorbikes and the BB guns and the fast cars. As soon as he could drive he had a Dodge Dart GTS. I can still rattle off the specs: a 340 cubic inch engine with a Holley four barrel carburetor, a Hurst shifter, and Cherry Bomb mufflers. I road shotgun in many a drag race with Chucky at the wheel.

Aside from that picture (which of course I only received as a scan decades later), I only have one other picture of Chucky. It’s his yearbook picture. He was a big handsome young man, with aviator glasses, and the full head of hair, combed straight back, that signaled the ’70s were ending. In the yearbook, the picture was marred by an odd mark in the middle of his hair. It was almost if something had been chipped out of the picture. Everyone was upset about it, but there was no recourse back then. The yearbook had been printed.

That weird mark haunted us a few years later when Chucky died snowmobiling; in hindsight it seemed like a weird premonition. In the odd times I happen to go through my yearbook, I can only pause on that page for a moment.

Pictures have that deep, evocative power, even when they’re not the ones that win Pulitzers, even when they’re not of the famous person or the famous moment. We all carry those images with us, don’t we? A wedding picture. A picture of a grandmother in her kitchen. A picture or a child playing ball or on a swing. A picture of an old friend, long gone.

So we hold onto the ones we have. We frame them. We secure them in albums, keep them in dry places. We scan them and share them. We post them on Facebook and hope for warm comments. We share them in email and messages. We look at them, sometimes furtively and sometimes at length. The memories come rushing back and we drink them in.