A few summers before my mother became so very ill, I’d started the ambitious project of scanning pictures into our computer to save upon an external hard drive. I began with the pictures my mother had brought up to San Antonio, which included a hodge-podge from her childhood, my father’s childhood, and their married lives. She’d given up on labeling each item, and instead wrote a brief timeline of their life together, centering upon my father’s various assignments within the military. She devoted part of each album to each of her children. Grouped over several pages would be pictures of my sister, my brother, or myself from infancy through our adult years. I didn’t scan every photograph, but I did do the majority of school pictures and major events. I placed, on a special shelf in my closet, some large photographs that would need to be scanned in pieces, reassembled, and repaired in Photoshop. And then I forgot about all of my aspirations when Mom’s needs changed and her care became more demanding.
The first weekend of November, I spent part of the visit to my brother’s house delving into my parents’ closets. Curiosity enticed me into old boxes and bins, where I discovered my brother’s baby book and infant shoes along with my grandfather’s passport. Stashed safely into a weatherproof bin, I uncovered some old photographs that I’d never seen. I asked my brother if I could take the bin home to scan the contents with the goal of having it back to him by his visit at Christmas.
Days have a way of slipping by unnoticed, until I realized last weekend that we hadn’t scanned a single photograph. And so my husband and I set about organizing and scanning pictures. David’s a whiz with Photoshop, and he managed to refresh color, repair missing sections of photographs, or reconstruct missing parts on people’s faces. As our project continued, I realized just how wonderful it will be to have this at my fingertips and to make copies for my sister to keep within her own files. We no longer have to worry about something getting lost in a hurricane because copies exist in several places.
Anyway, in with all of the pictures of places we’ve lived and people we’ve loved, I found a small shot of the saddest Christmas tree. For the 363 TEWS, this little tree symbolized their lives spent away from their families—all of the anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays missed. I found myself, after viewing so many of our family pictures, drawn to this image.
My heart aches for those men of long ago who longed for their families, homes and traditions. And it breaks to know that our soldiers continue to serve “the longest year” in distant lands. My imagination runs to another daughter skimming through family photographs and pausing when she comes upon another sad Christmas tree in a barracks.
"Nam Christmas Tree"
Copyright 2013 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman