12 November 2008

The Picture I love the Most!

{Click on photo to enlarge}

This picture was taken during the summer of 1960. Of all the pictures taken during my life, this one holds the greatest meaning and creates the most emotion for me. In the centre is my grandmother and behind her to the right is my grandfather. That's me seated on the paddles of my paternal grandmother's wheelchair, a place I often sat. Despite being 3 years old at the time, I remember everything about this picture as clearly as I can see the letters that I am typing into this screen. My mother is to the left in the picture, my father directly behind my grandmother whom my cousins (to her left in the picture) called "Yankee Mammaw." To the right side of this picture are my Uncle Dick, his two daughters Francy and Sally and my Aunt Sara (Aunt Beckie as everyone else calls her).

This homage is actually to her, but I must explain other things before I get there. According to everyone, my grandfather so loved his wife, that he wrote poems to her until the day she died. He loved her so much that the loss of her left him speechless for nearly a year. Today we would call it depression, but then the adults around me most likely considered it a condition brought on by the loss of his truly beloved wife. Her death came unexpectedly but if the true measure of anyone is the people who love them, then the fact that the church was filled with flowers and overflowing with visitors is illustrative of how much my grandmother added to lives of the people who knew her. She died in 1961.

My Cousin Francy, standing second from the right side of the picture, was the next person to die. She fell asleep while driving her car from Charleston to Columbia, South Carolina in 1969. I can remember the phone call and hearing my father telling my mother that Francy had died. My father headed for the airport to help his brother. My Aunt Sara and my Uncle Dick never overcame the pain of losing Francy. Her marriage imminent, her life under way, she was gone so suddenly and my aunt, to this day, still feels the pain.

My grandfather was the next to die in 1976. I have nothing but good memories of him and the his home we simply called Freeport. The home offered me refuge for reasons which my friends already know. My grandfather never seemed to know my name -- instead called me Sonny -- but that never bothered me. He taught me how to fish. I swam on one or the other of his two beaches. I had a boat, we had boats. Freeport offered me sanity in what was sometimes an otherwise insane world. Though my grandfather has been dead for 32 years, his jokes still remain with me and are retold as I meet new people. He loved to make people laugh. I have heard that he never took anything seriously, but, as a kid, what did I know.

The next to die was the person taking the picture, my Auntie May, my grandfather's sister. She died soon after my grandfather and she also loved to tell jokes and laugh. She is part of what made Freeport so wonderful.

The next to die was my mother. Her tombstone reads "She did it her way." That says just about all that need be said about her. Of her three sons, I have the harshest memories which differ from those of my siblings. Time has not yet healed the pain.

The next to die was my Uncle Dick, my grandparents' oldest son and someone with whom I shared a love of family history. He died in 2004, just before the Internet made tracing one's genealogy a simple process. He and my aunt traveled halfway around the world to gather family information while I did the same from my chair and entered the correct connections. He would have loved the Internet. He was a religious man. He won a silver star in World War II and remained in the military for a long time as a reservist. He loved his family -- all of us. I recall standing at his graveside as the riflemen fired three rounds of seven shots. No matter how much I anticipated the popping of the rifles, I still jumped. He is buried next to Francy, his daughter, in a beautiful church cemetery in Columbia, South Carolina.

My Aunt Sara, or Aunt Beckie as everyone except me calls her, is about to die. She is a tall woman and I remember how she towered over me as a child. Even in old age she is tall when she is able to stand, which has became more difficult over the past few years. She is a remarkable woman - highly educated with a PhD. Loves to read. Couldn't stop thanking me during the past few times that I have seen her for getting her a subscription to the New York Review of Books, not to be confused with the NY Times Book Review section. She would make lists of books and ask her daughter, my Cousin Sally, to purchase them before her next trip. It is not clear to me why I am the only person who calls her Aunt Sara but I was never able to convert to Aunt Beckie. Whenever I visited Aunt Sara, she would ask me all about my travels never seeming to grow tired of any of it. During our last visit I asked her if she was bored hearing my stories and she said "Glynn (southern accent added), no one here has very much to say which I haven't heard many times over, so it is such a pleasure to hear your stories of far away places." She is a southern woman, and, although polite to a fault, always willing to express her opinion.

I am on my way to see Aunt Sara who is in a semi-comatose state in Charleston, South Carolina. She may not know that I am there, but I will still talk to her, and perhaps even read the NY Review of Books to her. She has been on death's door before and recovered, but this time, we've been told, she may not. My Cousin Sara, the granddaughter of my Aunt Sara, is by her bedside and I will keep her company. She gave all us all so much in life. When she dies she will be laid to rest next to her husband and daughter.

So, just a few people in the photo remain and are growing old. Hard to believe that I have a memory of an event so clear in my mind that is 48 years old. I recall the heat of the day. I recall being called over to be in the picture. I recall it being snapped and I look at it now and know that, for that moment in time, we were a happy family. My cousins, brothers and I most likely jumped into the water afterward. My grandmother was rolled up the ramp into the house. That night we all ate dinner at the outside table.


Dr. Sara (Beckie) Lewis Strachan died peacefully at home after an extended illness. Dr. Strachan, who lived in Columbia for 67 years before moving to Summerville in 1997, was 86.

An avid educator for several decades, Dr. Strachan was Principal of Forest Lake Elementary School in Columbia for 16 years. She received her BA, MEd, and EdD degrees from the University of South Carolina. She was also organizational president of the Reading Association of S.C. Education Association.

During World War II, she interrupted her education to work for the Quartermaster Corps at Ft. Jackson, where she also wrote as the columnist “Suzie” for the Stars and Stripes U.S. military newspaper distributed overseas. It was during this time that she met and married her husband, Colonel Richard C. Strachan.

Dr. Strachan was a passionate story teller, Sunday School teacher, and Bible teacher, as well as an accomplished artist. After her retirement, she and her husband founded Thistledo, Inc., an educational initiative teaching history, art, and literature through the mediums of brass and gravestone rubbings. Their training included technical courses at Cambridge University, University of Durham, and several institutions in Belgium.

Dr. Strachan, a member of the Summerville Presbyterian Church, served as an elder at Eastminster Presbyterian Church and as a deacon at the First Presbyterian Church, both in Columbia. She was a former member of the Board of Visitors of Columbia College, and a charter member of the Suzanna Smith Elliott Chapter of the DAR. In 1980, she was honored as the Volunteer of the Year by the United Way Midlands. She was also a founder and former president of the Robert Burns Society of the Midlands; a founder and former board member of The Women’s Shelter in Columbia; and a founder and board member of the Southeastern Section of the Zane Grey West Society.

Dr. Strachan was born on April 13, 1922, in Greenville, S.C. She was the daughter of Frances Lyles Brock of Newberry County and Edgar Brumitte Lewis of Ridgeway. Dr. Strachan was predeceased by her husband of 60 years and by her daughter, Frances Helen Strachan. She is survived by her daughter, Sally Strachan, her granddaughter, Sara Strachan, and her sister, Betty Sanders.