On Memorial Day…

At noon, I found myself sitting on the office floor with a box of old photos in front of me. Although I’d looked at the top layer of pictures when it came from my dad’s apartment many years ago, I’d never actually gone through it top to bottom.

Kip Green in uniformWorking my way down, I separated out dozens of small black and white pictures of faces I vaguely knew, but many were of strangers, reminding me that after he and my mother divorced my dad went on to have a life distinct from ours. Beneath that layer there were pictures of my brother and sister and me at various ages, mostly young and adorable. Daddy never knew what to do with us once we started to grow up. There was the picture my brother, Kip, sent home after he joined the Army and went to Vietnam. How determined he looks, how strong and proud and unmistakably American.


As I went deeper into the box, many of the photographs were sepia colored. What an angry sulky face my grandmother had when she was three and seven and eleven! And the expression on the face of my Great-great Grandmother Drusilla Philbrick tells me that life is a stern passage and I’d better be careful I don’t say or do anything to rock the boat. On the back of all these pictures I recognized Daddy’s precise architect’s handwriting, the reliably green ink and the names I remembered from way back: Lydia, Bird, Will and George and Mary. Iowa names, Winterset names.


Lt. Clarence Roy Green in uniformThe photo of my grandfather, Lt. Clarence Roy Green, shows a movie star handsome man I can’t quite connect to my bad tempered grandmother.


Under hundreds of photos I discovered a mustard-colored copy of the Wall Street Journal announcing Nixon’s resignation. I imagined my father laying it down to strengthen the bottom of the box, thinking of history as he did so.


The last thing I took out of the box was what I thought was a picture frame. Instead, it was something I’d never seen before, a daguerreotype, an image of my many greats back Uncle Will printed on glass. In 1861 or so he wears the uniform of the Union Army and a rifle rests on his narrow shoulder. After the war, he returned to Winterset and raised a big family. My brother came home from Vietnam, went to college and made a good life for himself. Lt. Clarence Roy Green was gassed and died in Baccarat, France where he is buried. He left a young widow with a four year old boy who grew into a man who designed secret parts of secret things for the Navy in yet another war.


I sat on the floor and cried, remembering three men. Three soldiers. Will and Clarence Roy and Kip. Each one of them determined, strong and proud and unmistakably American.

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One Response to “On Memorial Day…”

  1. Art Campbell says:

    ‘Zounds, that’s a REAL Memorial Day experience!