[George's Pond]

A Thousand Words

George's Pond Illustration
SUBSCRIBING TO THE NOTION that a picture is worth a thousand words, when Joy and I tied the knot in 1968, we decided to create a photo journal – a collection of anniversary pictures chronicling our journey through life together. I’m always struck by the stories those images tell.

The first entry, a shot of the happy couple walking down the aisle moments after exchanging vows, is run-of-the-mill wedding photography, but it remains a vivid reminder of how poorly that day started when the priest forgot to book the organist, forcing Joy to make her grand entrance in utter silence, save for the sound of her footsteps echoing through a hushed church. Fortunately, a talented church singer among our guests came to the rescue, delivering several fitting numbers a cappella.

Anniversary pic number one finds us in a little trattoria in the shadow of Rome’s Trevi Fountain. It was the final evening of a six-week European junket that took us to some of Europe’s most storied capitals – a trip made possible only with the guidance of our faithful travel companion, Arthur Frommer’s Europe on $5 a Day.

Several snapshots taken in our first home, a modest Oshawa semi purchased for $21,000, underscore just how fortunate we were to double our investment over four years, allowing us to purchase rural acreage overlooking Rice Lake and build the place we called home for forty years.

Many of those Green Acres era photos are set against a backdrop of the massive vegetable gardens I insisted on growing. I planted, weeded, hoed and picked while Joy blanched, pickled and froze. My bride did not share my enthusiasm for those overly bounteous harvests and there were a few tense moments. We laugh about it now. Not then.

Fast forward to anniversary number 34. Bizarre. Dinner was at a charming waterfront inn on Stoney Lake. But our relaxing al fresco pre-dinner drink was interrupted when a perfect stranger plopped himself down at our table. This was one strange lad who regaled us with tall tales of the many influential people he knew (including Alberta Premier Ralph Klein) and claimed to own the biggest array of oversized watercraft docked nearby. A personal boat tour was next on his agenda, but first, he had to go inside and speak with management to ensure that, as his very good friends, we would be treated royally. That was the last we saw of him.

On our 39th we posed in front of the Eiffel Tower. Paris was an add-on after our son’s marriage in the East Sussex village of Alfriston. That across-the-pond wedding provided the perfect opportunity for side trips to the City of Light and my mother’s birthplace in Scotland. Many memories. Last year, with our 50th looming and mindful that “go big or go home” is not how their parents operate, our kids still insisted on marking the occasion. Small, low-key and just family they promised.

When the big day arrived, they commandeered our family room, forbade us entry, excluded us from the preparations while they worked their magic. Finally allowed admittance, we were greeted by dozens of congratulatory balloons and presented with fancy, gold-trimmed printed menus replete with the pretentious food and beverage descriptions you’d expect in some high-end eatery.

One wine boasted a “straw colour with a fruity and floral aroma featuring apple and green pepper.” A beer was described as “a classic English bitter with subdued carbonation and a malt-forward flavour profile.” The rhetoric continued with the “Artisan Lasagne” featuring “home-baked pasta layered with meat sauce, the finest Italian cheeses and chef ’s choice of local market ingredients.”

All very lah di dah. But the joke was on us as the flowery prose notwithstanding, the food came from Costco and the beers from my son’s home brewery. We had a good laugh and, their humble origins aside, all the comestibles and libations lived up to those over-the-top descriptors.

We’ll keep adding to that album as long as we’re both around. But how long will those images remain relevant? Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words. Historic world events like 9/11 attest to the truth of that. But on a more personal micro level, pictures have a limited shelf life.

I have dozens of photographs of my departed parents. They’re nice to have, but the stories they tell are fading fast. I also have several boxes of my mother’s diaries. Many entries are utterly mundane, but many more are poignant accounts of the times in which she lived and the difficulties she faced in her latter years. So much family history that will endure long after those photographs have become all but meaningless.

Likewise, with our anniversary album. The stories underpinning those images are accessible only to people close enough in time and place to fill in the blanks. Sadly, in a few generations those pictorial histories will be lost. Gone. But time has no power to diminish the stories contained in my mother’s diaries. They will live on. Words are immortal. Images not so much.

Story by George Smith

Illustration by Lee Rapp