Removing the lid, the first thing he sees is a very old picture album surprised by the fact that he’s never seen it before. Lloyd liked taking pictures keeping them in albums in the living room, but not this one. It’s thick containing black heavy pages that are worn on the edges. The front is dark brown faux leather that is creased and split in spots. Balancing it on the top lip of the box, he opens the cover.
The photos are fastened to the pages with decorative silver corners glued to the dark background pages. There are two per side, perfectly and identically placed. They are all of Eugene. The first four are as a baby. In silver ink beneath each photo is a date and how old Eugene is. They start at 6 months, the eyes big and full of baby wonder, the cheeks fat, a wisp of thin hair sticking up. The fourth is of a laughing boy with icing smeared on his chin. The birthday cake in the black and white photo has a large candle stuck slanted in the center. It’s the number 1. As if to confirm the obvious the script below says one year. Eugene looks at the cover again in wonderment why Lloyd never showed him this, feeling hurt that he didn’t share it. The feeling is swift as Eugene soon realizes these are Lloyd’s memories, the things he deemed personal, thing that were important.
Sitting back in his chair, he scans the remaining photos. They are mostly of just Eugene in some silly or endearing pose but there are many of Lloyd and him. The pictures follows the life of a growing boy, every age. Two, three, four, the teens, the twenties, the present. Birthday cakes are the dominant theme in the early ones. Some have trophies displayed with Eugene wearing various sports uniforms, mostly scuffed and dusty baseball togs.
It takes him forty minutes to look at the whole set. The collection is clearly a work of love, documentation of a father’s pride, a cheerful passing of time. There is nothing sad about the album but he feels a pang of deep lose. He misses his father, comforted somewhat as he reflects on the man’s love. There had never been mean words between them, disagreements yes, but no anger was spoken. He had a good life and the pictures are proof.
Getting up from his seat, he goes to the wall where the door is. There are shelves lining both sides, full of books, knickknacks, some pieces from his antique toy collection, more books. One section on the bottom is taller than the rest that holds a small group of albums from before digital days. He places the precious book amongst the others. Returning to the box he digs through a few things when he realizes the box is about him, things Lloyd has kept to bookmark events in his life. It surprises him, Lloyd never seemed one to be comfortable with sentimentality, wasn’t given to too much reminiscing.
An 8 1/2 by 11 manila folder titled Newspaper Clippings holds just that, clippings. Leafing through them, they’re mostly team photos of when the teams he played on won some tournament or provincial championships. Four are for baseball and one is for basketball. A copy of his advertisement for the Grand Opening of “Minister’s Graphic Studios”. His prom photo which was one of several in the entertainment section. There are six of them in a group, the girls were all close friends, the guys so-so. Black heavy framed glasses makes him feel he looked like a geek. He was still dating LW then, but they broke up after graduation, her wanting to see the world, him a hometown boy with no desires to venture far. Maybe she left because of the glasses. There are more pumpkin related images and stories. He closes the folder placing it on the what-to-do corner.
There is a battered baseball tucked in one corner. Some threads have unravelled for an inch or so on one of the seams, scuff marks where the bat has only nicked it are evident in many places, faded ink on the side proclaim Home Run in big rugged letters. Eugene tosses it lightly in the air catching it deftly with a forward swipe. He remembers the day he hit it over the fence at the Kiwanis’s Field. There were two out in the bottom of the last inning, one man at second, and his team behind by one run. He had a strike and three balls when the pitcher erred by sending the round missile straight across his path at shoulder height, right where he loved them. He was twelve then, a scrawny kid but strong. He spent many summers on his father’s boat as often as could, Lloyd always putting him to work, teaching him as they sailed.
The ball connected with the last six inches of the bat in the widest part of its swinging arc. It sailed majestically upward, clearing the field by fifty feet into a wooded area. Lloyd had been sitting on the cheap iron seats. He dashed for the ball yelling that he’d go get it. He came back shortly claiming he couldn’t find it. He wasn’t fooling anyone especially as he was blushing when calmly returning to his seat. The umpire scrunched his shoulders and dug a new ball from his bag. Lloyd had shown his “prize” to Eugene when they got home. He and his father had batted it around and played catch with it for several years in their own back fields until he whacked it once and the leather curled away from the broken laces that held it together. He remembers that he had never seen it after that. Lloyd had bought him a new one.
Eugene walks back to his bookcases, eyeing the best spot for the ball. He wants to be reminded of the good times it proclaims every time he sees it. There is a gap between several books on the right shelf level with his chest. Rearranging the hardcovers, he sets the ball between The Sea Captain’s Wife by Beth Powning and Four Fires by Bryce Courtenay, two of his favourite authors. He checks his watch seeing it’s almost noon and hears Taffy in the kitchen, probably making a peanut butter and banana sandwich, her specialty. There’s no schedule on the weekends and he’s not really hungry after the muffins so decides to finish the box now. A white shoebox sits on one side on top of what looks like official documents, he can see the provincial crest is stamped on one corner of the top sheet. Next to where the baseball had been beside the shoebox is a folded baby’s jumper, of the lightest blue. It’s small. He stretches it out with the body the length of his forearm. The small feet are puckered cloth. The label on the tiny neck states size 0, causing Eugene to laugh.
The gentle laughter lingers as Eugene studies the small robe. He’s heard of this miniature outfit, saw it a couple of times but mostly forgot about it. It is the garment he was wearing when Lloyd found him in a box, a banana box sitting on top of a bed. He frowns with a little sadness when he thinks of two young people abandoning their baby, never knowing his real parents. He wondered many times about the missing teenagers but Lloyd would never talk about it freely, always needing to be coaxed. Eugene never pressed the issue always claiming no matter what, he couldn’t be any happier as a kid. He didn`t have as much as some kids, more than many but always enough, there had never been anything to complain about. Placing the garment on the top of the folder, he digs out the shoebox. Placing it on one corner of the desk he removes the top. It`s full of seashells.
Clams, quahogs, skate, oyster, snail, tiny crabs, even a faded orange lobster claw are crammed into the box. Removing one of the larger sea clam shells, he recognizes the stick figures he loved to draw as a child. There is a big stick figure and a small stick person, they are holding hands. Lloyd’s concise printing underneath says ``Beach Day, 1979`` he would`ve been six. The shells evoke a warm sensation, a memory of sunny skies, wavelets lapping at his skinny legs, wet sand between his toes, Lloyd running to dive in headfirst no matter how cold the water may have been. He loved the sea but he adored the beach bringing Eugene as often as they could.
A two hundred foot beach with yards and yards of shallow water when tide was low was only a minute from their house. He thinks of the many times they walked back and forth on the sandy shore, talking their time as they hunted for beach glass and chatted. Their most serious discussions were had with sand upon their bare feet. Eugene looks to the corner of the room by the window where a large vase of clear wavy glass holds dozens of shards of sand polished multicolored pieces. It took them thirty years and a hundred conversations to fill it. Those and the shells, he muses, represents perhaps the happiest memories, knowing full well why Lloyd kept them all. He can never throw these out.
Eugene sorts through a couple more shells, trying to visualize the day represented by the drawings or the date on the individual pieces. Most don’t provoke anything particular until he removes a starched white oyster shell. On it is an Acadian flag, red, white and blue squares. A disfigured yellow spot in the upper corner of the blue section is supposed to be a star. The date is August 15, 1982, he would’ve been nine that summer, ten in the fall. Lloyd would’ve turned 65 that spring. This one he remembers. The drawing was done by a girl his age, her name was Anna, he can't remember the last name . Her mother had carried her to the beach, her father carried a wheelchair. It was not an ordinary wheelchair, the skinny wheels had been replaced with what looked like bicycle tires, probably easier to push in the sand, no adornments, some rust spots on the rims, it was only meant for the shore. Anna loved the water and the sand. She couldn’t walk but she could float and swim if someone helped her.
The other kids shied away but Eugene was captivated by the smiling girl. He could hear her laughing and it rang like a melody in his ears. When the girl’s father became too tired to wheel her through the shallow water, Eugene asked if he could take the man’s place. The stayed in the water until their fingers and toes were pruned from the salty sea, splashing each other, throwing a Frisbee, building bucket castles on the exposed sand dunes. They played all afternoon and he became enamoured by her spirit, as much as a nine year old can be. She never came back the next summer nor any summer after that. She was eleven when she died. Eugene would always remember that day at the beach.
Placing the shell back in the box, he replaces the lid. Putting it aside he digs out the papers in the bottom of the #4 box, they’re the last items. There are several sheets stapled in the top left corner. He can see they are legal documents. The top page is from the family court in Moncton, New Brunswick, a larger city forty miles from his home. The page clearly states in so many words that his parents, Jody Macpherson and Myles Franklin have allowed their son Eugene Gerald Franklin to be adopted by Lloyd Benjamin Minister. The signatures on the bottom from his parents are strangely similar. Eugene scratches his head wondering how it could be. Lloyd told him that when Eugene was a baby, only a few days old, his parents had left in the night, stealing some furniture and the rent payments from when they had stayed in Lloyd’s parent’s house, leaving him and their responsibility behind. How could he have gotten the parent’s signatures when he claimed that he never saw them again?
Eugene is sitting in his chair in front of the desk, the documents on his lap when he realizes the forms have been doctored. Lloyd did whatever he needed to in order that he could keep the baby. Eugene leans forward, pushing the empty box back a bit so he can place the papers on the desk. He opens the top drawer on the right side to remove a crinkled piece of thin cardboard which has a blue ribbon pasted to it. The center of the cardboard is damaged, the ribbon unglued. The coroner had removed it from Lloyd’s dead fist when they had recovered the body the morning of the night he passed away. Lloyd had been holding it tightly to his chest when they found him.
It was the ribbon that was twined about Eugene’s tiny infantile wrist, the one thing his father had often told him about. An errant tear escapes from Eugene’s glistening eyes as he listens to his father’s husky voice as it echoes in his mind.
“This is the ribbon that changed my life. This is the ribbon that has made me the happiest man in the world. I will always take care of you. I will always love you.”
Thank you for visiting. Next week meet a new guest writer, Lockie Young and his very funny story - Not Waxing Poetic.
Please feel free to leave a comment.