Charlotte found herself alone on a cold and rainy Saturday two weeks before Christmas, and rather than have the weather and thoughts of Christmas past dampen her spirit, she ventured out into the season’s frenzy. Her first stop was in search of treasure at a neighborhood antique mall. With no particular gift in mind, Charlotte wove in and out among the booths for an hour or so, running her fingers over dusty furniture and picking through boxes of costume jewelry, faded postcards and tarnished flatware. Just as Charlotte made up her mind to leave empty-handed, she happened to see a small cigar box with worn edges sitting amidst a collection of old Butterick dress patterns and moth-eaten fur pieces. Picking up the box, Charlotte was surprised to find it heavier than expected, and lifted the lid to find a neatly stacked stash of vintage snapshots. She put the box down and turned over the first photo of a smiling teen-aged girl to see the words Min, Grants Park 1928 scrawled in blue ink. Charlotte read the backs of several more photographs, and discovered Min had a younger brother Bud, a father named Chester, and either a friend or sister nicknamed Dimples. At first glance it appeared there were pictures spanning a period of 20 years. Not sure of the reason Charlotte felt compelled to take the cigar box home with the intention of protecting the story of Min from being tossed into the trash. She was a bit dismayed to see the sticker on the bottom of the box read only $7. It didn’t seem right that so many memories could be valued so little. Charlotte dispelled the notion she might be a bit hoarder and voyeur, tucked the cigar box under her arm and made her way to the checkout counter.
The next two stops Charlotte made were abbreviated in order to get home and further pour over the contents of the box. All the way home, she thought about the people, especially the young girl, who were forever frozen in time in an array of black and white vignettes. Once at home, Charlotte curled up on her couch in front of a cozy fire and began taking in the life of Min one photo at a time. The condition of the pictures was pristine, almost as if once taken; the memories had been put away for safekeeping only to be forgotten. Most of the pictures were stamped on the back with the name Lane Drugs. There were family vacation pictures of Coopers’ Lake in Covington, GA and pictures taken in front of “Bill’s” home. There was even a photo taken after a long illness. Min had written the question, “Can you tell I have been sick?” Charlotte saw pictures of a handsome Naval officer whom she assumed was Bill, but she couldn’t be sure since there was nothing written on any photos after 1930. From what she could piece together Min must have married Bill right before WWII and stayed with her family in Grants Park, one of Atlanta’s first neighborhoods. When Bill came home from the war, the couple had 2 daughters within a year or two of each other. It also appeared that Min and Bill and their little family had been stationed in Florida for a period of time since several photographs were taken in front of a military style bungalow with palm trees in the yard.
After spending a couple of hours going through several dozen photos, researching the places listed on the backs of the pictures, Charlotte found she was emotionally attached to the family she would never meet in person. She wanted to know more about these people who most likely were no longer alive. What had become of the precious little girls whose first birthdays and first Georgia snow had been archived in the box? She wanted to know how the random picture of a black bear had come to be part of the collection. Her favorite pictures were of Min dated 1928. In those pictures, it was easy to imagine the kind of girl Min might have been by the words written on them and the easy smile and carefree nature each depicted. The girl who looked back at Charlotte was stylish and poised. Charlotte thought she even detected a slight air of rebelliousness in the young girl with an inverted bob hairdo. In the scenarios Charlotte conjured, Min would have either taken the picture of the bear only yards away, or at the very least been standing at the elbow of the photographer.
After 1929, the pictures dwindled, perhaps due to the depression, and picked up again in the early forties. In the later images Min’s likeness faded in comparison to those of the uniformed officer and curly-headed toddlers. It was this revelation that Charlotte decided was the real reason behind her desire to take custody of the cigar box. She identified with the girl who had been the star of her own life with all its promise who then became more of a supporting player to her handsome husband and precious children. Min, like most southern women of her time, had contained her dreams within a white picket fence. The girl who had written “the 3 flappers” on a photo of 3 beaming friends had grown into a woman who no longer smiled with her eyes. Charlotte wanted to go back in time and encourage the young Min to continue embracing life, cutting her hair, enjoying her friends and unabashedly staring into the future. Maybe by remembering Min in this way, Charlotte could resurrect the kindred spirit within and take her own advice.