It’s become in one month one of my favorite keepsakes. It’s a just-found picture of my grandfather who died more than 30 years before I was born.
It’s formal picture of him and seven rifle-toting comrades serving under Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing in the U.S. Second Army near Verdun during the First World War. It was taken Dec. 8, 1917, about 11 bloody months before the war’s conclusion.
It’s one of maybe six pictures I have of the warrior-poet I hope to one day embrace in heaven.
By contrast, I have maybe 10 pictures of me taken with a person dressed as Fiona from the Shrek movies, and nearly a dozen with me and the Bronz Fonz in Milwaukee.
I’ll bet there are maybe a thousand scattered pictures of me holding a golf club and maybe another thousand holding a glass of something alcoholic. There’s one or two full-frontals and a couple featuring the cheeky reverse that coincided with youthful nights of binge drinking.
We took maybe a dozen headshot pictures of me the other day before settling on the new profile picture that’ll appear on my various web sites.
It’s a good thing I was not raised in a culture that believes every time our picture is taken it steals a little bit of our souls.
Mine would now be empty, like the fortunes of the name that was once synonymous with pictures.
We live in an age when every aspect of our lives is on what used to be called film and a company named Kodak can’t earn a dime.
With all the seismic cultural shifts we endure near daily, it’s easy to forget that not that long ago a single perfect picture was something to cherish.
Now, they are much like snowflakes, no two are exactly alike and today there are about a billion of them waiting to cause chaos on the driveway outside my home.
For profligates, taking pictures has become like digital respiration. Nothing particularly distinguishing happened with the last one so you just reflexively take the next one.
Something we once cherished has been forever cheapened.
Let me tell you what little I know of Archibald W. Rodell.
He was the father of a young boy who worshipped him. He died at the age of, I think, 37, in the tuberculosis ward of a Pittsburgh veteran’s hospital, a latent result of the gassings he suffered at the hands of the Kaiser’s henchmen.
He left a notebook full of achingly beautiful hand-written poems about the 10-year-old little boy he was restricted for health reasons from hugging on the other side of the glass.
In an oddity I’ll never shake, I was reading through tears those poems late Jan. 11, 2004, the very night before my own father unexpectedly died. I hadn’t read them in decades.
In the few existing pictures I’ve seen of him, he looks dignified and happy. He is the only man smiling in what I now consider the defining photograph of him, the one in which he was was doing his part to help end The War to End All Wars.
Without any evidence to the contrary, I imagine he was a great man. He was a man of letters and art who fought to free the oppressed and came home to conceive and fleetingly raise the joyful man who so joyfully raised me.
Someday that man’s descendants will click on the trove of pictures of me and conclude grandpa liked to golf and drink, spent portions of his college years running around without pants and smiled like a sedated mental patient whenever anyone pointed a camera in his direction.
I don’t worry about each picture stealing some of my soul.
I wonder if I have any left to lose.