“It’s hard being the one left behind. It’s hard being the one who stays.”-Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife
Growing up, when people met my dad, they would exclaim, “Oh, I could see he was your father before you introduced him.” My brother and I look so much alike that I’ve vowed never to cut my hair pixie short ever again lest someone confuse the two of us. Since my brother and I look so much alike, it’s been interesting having sons who share physical characteristics but obviously take after one parent over the other.
When I look at my sons, I see the genetic split so easily. Our older boy looks like me while our youngest son takes after their father. I thought it was as simple as that for a very long time. Nick looked more like the Swearingen side while Parker was obviously very Hatfield in looks.
We confirmed the latter statement to be incredibly true just recently. My husband’s grandfather gave us a box of old, loose pictures. They included many photos of my late father-in-law as a young boy clear through his teenage years. My husband and I sat, shuffling through decades of lost memories last night, chuckling at the clothing and commenting on how they all felt like a hip Instagram filter.
And then we came across this one.
It was like looking into the bespectacled eyes of my youngest child, looking at his sideways smirk. Is he a time-traveler? Did we somehow clone my father-in-law? What Black Magic is this?
I assure you that this is not a picture of my youngest son. This is a picture of my late father-in-law, Bill, taken in 1971 at 4-H Camp here in Ohio. You can tell that his mother sent him with the camera as there are blurry and too dark pictures of his cabin mates as well as some scenic photos of a lake and a pool. And then this one, an OG selfie.
Parker looks so much like him at this age and stage that it nearly took our breath away. Parker is a year older than Bill was in this photo. Their glasses are the same shape. It’s uncanny.
When we showed him the photo, he didn’t believe that it wasn’t a photo of himself. Everyone we’ve shared the photo with simply says it’s Parker, as if it couldn’t be anyone else.
And then we came across this set of two photos, my grandfather-in-law, in his teens and dungarees, posing on the farm.
That’s not Nicholas, jaw set, eyes squinting into the sun. That’s my husband’s paternal grandfather, a Hatfield through and through. These two photos were almost more shocking than the obviously cloned photo of Bill and Parker. Since Nick looks so much like me (and, well, acts like me as well), we’ve never really seen the Hatfield side much in his facial features. But there it is.
There it is.
I’m thankful we’ve found these photos and the many others that came with them, memories that aren’t necessarily ours but belong in and to our family. We can’t ask Bill about that trip to 4-H camp as he’s no longer with us. Mamaw, while still here, can’t share about it anymore either, the disease having stolen her memories away from her, away from us. I hope that maybe Gramps might be able to tell us, at the very least, the year of the two photos featuring him and maybe the location of the 4-H camp. I’m sure he’ll laugh at the resemblance between himself and Nick; I wonder if he’s seen it all along.
These photos might not have seemed like much back in the day, simple snapshots at best. I can imagine the Mamaw might have even given Bill an earful for turning the camera on himself in such a manner. I am so thankful we have it and so many other extended memories in paper form. They bridge a gap between the man we’ve lost and the time before; they give us eyes into a time we didn’t know existed, glimpses into who he was before we knew him, before he left.
These photos show us that our loved ones live on in us, even when we cannot see them, touch them, tell them we love them in person. We show our love for those we’ve lost by loving those still with us today.