It was perhaps a month or so into 2020’s sheltering-in-place life, that I began to take fresh notice of this particular family photo among the others in the corner of my living room. Living alone–something I most always enjoy, even savor–this new sort of isolation was requiring some focused mental and emotional adjustment. Phone calls, Zoom meetings, e-correspondence and social media were now my main connections with the outside world. Along with the demands of this new living arrangement, bearing up under the onslaught of news of the Corona Virus and its widening grip on the country and the world was proving to be quite hard at moments. And I had to admit that increasingly it was coloring my usual optimistic outlook.
I’ve always loved this photo taken on what likely was a Sunday, a day of rest from the busy lives led by all those gathered for a game of croquet followed by refreshments and pleasant, easy conversation. Other photos reveal their croquet fun, the men’s ties definitely appropriate for that sort of thing back then. On the tables await full glasses of iced tea, or so it looks to me. I’ll bet it’s a quite warm Summer’s day. My grandmother, my mother’s mother, sits in the middle with her bright smile, her sister to her right, my grandfather, two people to the left. There’s only one woman I can’t identify, the rest are Schermerhorn-kin by birth or marriage. My grandmother, her sister, and their brother, the bespectacled man on the left, grew up on this farm and in 1937 are in their mid- to late-40s. My mother would have been in her second or third year of college but evidently wasn’t there. The person taking the picture is no doubt her cousin, Oliver, the avid amateur photographer of the family. Within a few years he will sign up with the Army Air Corps and serve in the South Pacific in World War II.
There is such a sense of conviviality and bonhomie amongst them. You can tell how glad they are to be together for the afternoon and that there will be another such gathering again before too long. That’s something I’ve always felt when looking at the picture and which always makes me smile. As it caught my attention last Spring, entirely new thoughts arose. I was looking at the faces of people who had seen and lived through the horrors of World War I as well as the Flu Epidemic of 1918-1919. In this year, 1937, the Stock Market Crash of 1929 was recent history. And while their lives fortunately had remained largely unchanged, the Great Depression was stalking the country that very summer. News from Europe most certainly would have been ominous, another Great War looming.
I am nearing my seventy-second birthday. Standing in my living room gazing at the photo, I’m keenly aware of being the granddaughter and great-niece to seven of the people sitting at that picnic table. All but one lived to know of my birth and we enjoyed lively, loving connections for a good part of my childhood, my grandfather the last one to pass on when I was 18. Over the decades of their lives what challenging times, what terrible disasters distant and nearer to home they’d endured. I’m sure the impact of each was considerable yet on they went with their daily lives, moving forward as best they could. The bucolic afternoon captured in the photo was not a rarity, but a commonplace pleasure.
I am heir to this resilient Spirit. In these months of the Covid virus pandemic stretching onto a full year soon, there have been long moments and sometimes days in which a bleak sense of despair hovers, a sadness seeps in around the edges of even the sturdiest optimism. 2020 brought one too many shocking, dis-heartening tragedies and events, each adding its own shock value and weight. I developed my own means of coping, continuing on with living as well and as fully as I could…worth its own post perhaps. How reassuring it was to become aware of this legacy, framed in this photo. Passed on to me long after their lives here ended, this legacy of Endurance offering me its comfort, offering me its Grace.
I look the other way, down the decades stretching ahead when the Covid-19 pandemic will likewise be a memory, the world hopefully recovered and re-imagined in all the ways we most hope it will be. May whatever photos survive of me and my family reveal the character we brought to this decade’s challenges, reflecting our own calm fortitude and unflagging Endurance.