Wednesday, January 14, 2009
When we were cleaning out my dad's office after he died, I found a envelope marked Family Photos that I haven't looked at since. Now I'm scanning them and looking for a place to post to share with family. I am hoping that my Uncle Dick can help me with some identification.
There aren't a lot of photos, but they go way back. I am fascinated with the small handful of photos of Henry Arthur Helm, b. 1881, my father's father, nicknamed Otto, or Ott. He's the guy on the left side of the boxcar up top, in the dark overalls leaning against the train, and in the group shot the crack in the photo runs right through him.
I didn't know my grandfather, I was born too late, but I know he was a powerful presence in my father's life. Ott was born in New Albany, Indiana, but crossed the Ohio River to drive a streetcar in Louisville. I see my father's face and hands in his. I wonder how else they were the same, or different. I wonder how who he was has shaped who I am.
Ott taught himself to read and write a little by looking at the newspaper. He eventually became a Sergeant in the Louisville Police Dept. The story goes that one day Ott was walking his beat and found a dead horse in the street, and he had to drag it a block over to Oak Street to write his report because he couldn't spell Dumesnil Street.
The last photo shows Ott with my grandmother, Blanche Bullock Helm, not too long before she died, in 1955. They were celebrating their 50th anniversary. That's one of my brothers he's bending to pick up. Ted I think.
Looking at these photos closely for the first time, looking into the faces of people long gone whose existence I depend on, then scanning them and sharing them around the world, instantly, it's hard to process. It reminds me of something neighbor Bill and I were talking about this morning - that to live in this emerging world, we have to be deeply rooted but connected to the entire world, all at once.