TWO PHOTOGRAPHS, 1858-2017 written for the last of the elder generation of Whitakers

by Ray Whitaker
(Guilford Countyu, North Carolina)

TWO PHOTOGRAPHS, 1858-2017


Women and men in their Sunday best
On the front porch in summertime Massachusetts woods
There, three men are looking at
A woman seated with a pipe in her mouth,
Wry smile on her lips, eyes all lit up.
Three other women, perhaps sisters,
Standing behind, a bit to the right
Perhaps indicative of their attitude
Towards a pipe-smoking woman…
In eighteen-fifty-eight, this photo was taken
Were they all dressed up just for the photograph?
Had there been a funeral?
Or perchance, taken fresh from Sunday's sermon
Admonishing all to be pious.

In the picture, two children happily there
A symbol of growth,
A promise of continuance
That the family line would go on.

In twenty-seventeen, another familial gathering again
We talked about that older family, then,
As we gathered the family now
For this new purpose…
Laughing at the smirking woman's pipe
Wondering about summertime so long ago
Curious uncertainty going on
About that photo of eighteen-fifty-eight's long lost relatives.

In twenty-seventeen, this gathering bittersweet
To honor family, again, now
Share some joy, and shed some tears
Together. As Aunt Laura was just now gone.

The last of Ralph, Dorothy, Ray, Laura and Jean
Those five kids all now having left us.
This family of Whitakers -where all would accomplish
Building, growing leaving the world better with their lives
More populated with kids
We kids all grown up, having had kids of our own.

Aunt Laura was the last of those Whitaker kids leaving we…
Somehow this was more significant
All of us , we, the gathered,
Had this thought.

Feeling quite, well, somehow honored, yet apart, alone
In the midst of the family, wine, and conversations
In the midst of warm, endearing hugs
Thinking that there was only one named Whitaker in the room.
In amongst all the Whitaker descendants in the room
Without having the Whitaker name being carried by any.
Daughters having married, sisters having married
Taken the Husbands name as is customary.
I had daughters, two
That no longer carry the name either.

…one of my father’s Distinguished Flying Crosses here close as I write
…writing atop Uncle Bob’s eighteen-twenty walnut secretary
…my Mom and Dad’s photo smiling at me on the bookshelf nearby
…soon to be eating supper on my old Massachusetts drop-leaf.

The last of Ralph, Dorothy, Ray, Laura and Jean
Now, each of those five kids are missed…
All of them having left us.
That family of Whitakers, those that all having accomplished building,
Growing, leaving the world better
With their lives having really, really lived them well.
Leaving we kids now all grown up, some having had kids of our own.
We took a picture after Laura’s funeral,
Eleven of us gathered in twenty-seventeen
Comparing, by looking at those nine of us gathered in eighteen-fifty-eight,
That Life will go on, in spite of the present grief
Our two pictures are just testament.


This piece is included in the forthcoming book: For The Lost And Loved; 93 pages; anthology of poets/writer; by
Ray Whitaker, 2018

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