The past is beautiful

This day was more beautiful than I could have known at the time. Sunday dinner at home with our visiting PaPa and both Grannies, 1969.

This day was more beautiful than I could have known at the time.
Sunday dinner at home with our PaPa and Grannies on a rare visit from Alabama, 1969.

“I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.”Virginia Woolf

Reading this quote, I can only wish that Woolf had thought of these words before she took her own life; perhaps she might have given herself time to discover that all was not as bleak as it must have seemed at the time.  In any case, she has left behind a wealth of her written thoughts to ponder, and this one rings true for me.

The years do change our perceptions of the past; often they soften and enhance them, so that they grow more beautiful with time.  My memories of my grandparents were precious to me when I was in my twenties and thirties, but all the more so now that I am the same age they were during my earliest recollections of them.  Conjecture and imagination now add depth to a picture that I was too young to fully comprehend.

Do you have memories about which your emotions have expanded, as Woolf describes?  Which of your present emotions may seem incomplete to you later, seen with the benefit of hindsight through the lens of passing time?

One year ago today:

History that teaches


  1. Does anyone know who was sitting to the left of Granny Hedden? I see an arm. I assume Daddy was taking the picture.

    • Carla, that is Sherry – here’s another photo, taken by Eric from a different angle a short while after the one in the post. Even if Granny R had shown up better in the photo, I wouldn’t have used that one because Al chose to be so goofy in it.

      • Thank you! Love the pics! How many times did that particular group get together?!

        • Carla, I don’t know; I just remember that it never seemed like enough. I remember thinking we hardly ever got to see our Grannies and PaPa. They were so kind to us, in their own special ways. I’m glad we have the photos to remember such times!

  2. Anon E. Moose

    Carla is mostly hidden in the left background. The girl with the big hair has an ample serving of sugar already on her plate. But who is represented by only a left wrist (with watch or bracelet) and fist in the right foreground? Her plate seems to have green peas on it. What was the main course? Certainly not the dish Granny H is proudly brandishing!?!?
    I know – I digress . . .

    • Not sure what you are referring to as sugar, but if it’s those LeSeur peas we all have on our plates, they do indeed have sugar added to them in the canning process. But they still count as a vegetable! I believe that’s a leftover piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken on Al’s plate, and there’s already a bite out of it. From the other picture (see my reply to Carla’s comment) it appears that the main course was ham, which is on the plate Mom is holding.

  3. Anon E. Moose

    “Hey, wait a minute! That’s not my plate! That’s that mischievous little boy’s plate!” I heard you say from 600 miles away.

    • You were way ahead of me. I couldn’t even figure out what you were referring to as sugar!

  4. HarryS

    Love it.
    Where in Alabama.
    I came from Abanda Ala.
    That was where the AB and A railroad crossed the Road!

    • Hi Harry, my parents and most of our relatives are from Russellville, Alabama. Jeff’s aunt lives near Columbus, GA, not too far from Abanda.

  5. raynard

    Julia as we approach Thanksgiving, I remember alot of them growing up. My mom’s routine was the turkey was cooking the night before. She cooked everything herself. Dinner was served before noon. And who can forget the grocery shopping planed weeks ahead. Next moth will be 22 years since she passed away. It also was 3 weeks before Thanksgiving and I belive it was the last thing she spoke about along with her surprise birthday party. It was included in a letter she wrote me while stationed in Hawaii.. That year a x girlfriend of my oldest brother family had invited me to have dinner with her family. Be that my late oldest sister and her daughters lived with my mom but wasnt motivated to go in the kitchen and cook dinner.” Now about that Cajun Guy with the red suspenders, umm Justin that was his name, I garentee” lol Be blessed

    • Raynard, your description of your Mom’s Thanksgiving routine sounds familiar. Another thing I remember is having a huge, rock-hard frozen turkey defrosting in the kitchen sink the day before. My Mom always cooked everything herself too, and it amazes me now to wonder how they could manage having so many dishes all hot at the same time with one relatively small oven and NO microwave. But somehow they did it. Even with a microwave and lots of help from the deli, I have a hard time getting everything coordinated and can’t seem to keep that gravy hot enough, even with a microwave! I know that first Thanksgiving without your mother must have been terribly hard for all of you. I hope the memories now are mostly happy. I wonder if today’s generations will have Thanksgiving memories so closely tied to their mothers and grandmothers? It seems as if all of us in our generation think first of them when we remember Thanksgiving.

  6. Good morning, Julia! Coincidentally, I saw a photo yesterday, of my grandmother holding new born me! I so vaguely remember that her hair was once brown! Definitely a wonderful moment of happiness!

    • Susan, isn’t it beautiful that you have that photo? I’m sure just seeing it tapped into memories buried deep in your subconscious. I believe children and even babies have unknown memories or associations with lots of things that they can’t clearly call to mind. Today’s children will be unable to imagine how scarce our visual documentation of our families used to be, relatively speaking. We’re lucky that photographs and videos are so easily made today.

  7. Steve

    Beautiful thoughts that carry an even more beauty of depth and appreciation for the legacy we’ve been left.

    • Thank you, Steve! It’s great to “see” you here. Hope you are doing well.

  8. Beautiful, Julia, and so true. Sometimes in the midst of these days I remind myself that even next year I will have nostalgia over today. I am sharing this today on my Facebook page and Twitter. Nicely said!

    • Thanks so much! I am honored that you want to share the post. During our early years as a military family, I caught onto how, with each move, I would find myself looking back with nostalgia at the home we just left, which I would then do again three years later about the new home we were now in! Once I saw the pattern, I started to realize that “these are the good old days.” And I’ve also noticed that I sometimes feel nostalgic about things I would never have imagined that I’d miss. Life is funny that way! Thanks again for your comment and sharing.

  9. I love the memories of holiday meals, family gatherings after church, and the many places we called home over the years. Those have become more beautiful with each recollection of what was. We watched the movie “Jersey Boys” last night so I’m on a nostalgia phase now. 🙂

    • Sheila, I haven’t seen that movie yet, but I really want to, if only because I grew up hearing so much of the Four Seasons (actually around the time of the photo in today’s post, it seems like they were playing nonstop in our house). Isn’t it fun to look back on those times together with family and friends? I wish I had kept a journal or some other record that would give me more details, but I guess our memories can fill in the gaps any way we want them to, which is part of the fun. I know not everyone has many happy memories of childhood, but my philosophy is, it’s never too late to start making happy memories NOW! I hope you will have some fun times this weekend to do just that.

      • Julia, “Defeat Despair” is often a journal for me, unintentionally. Recently, we were trying to remember EXACTLY when we visited Bill’s dad in the fall last year. I found the date when I was reading “One year ago today:” and my comment referred to being in Bristol. Thank you for giving and giving! 🙂

        • Sheila, you’re welcome. I noticed the diary aspect of the comments myself awhile back. It’s surprising how much we forget from day to day. Life is just so full (I won’t blame it on our being “of a certain age”) and we are so rich with experiences that it’s fun to have some of them documented. I’m so glad you have been here with us!

  10. Time passes so quickly we snap a picture and share some laughs at the dinner table. The kids are playing in the living room, they are running around with a black olive on the tip of each finger that they have taken from the antipasti platter. The beautiful Christmas tree looms in the background. Everyone is holding up their glass and “Salute,” is proclaimed.. Just a moment in time, but a memory forever. :o)

    • Patricia, thanks for sharing that memory here…it makes me smile this morning. I love the detail about the black olives! You put such great specifics in your writing. It really brings the scene to life. YES these are precious memories that stay with us always. ❤

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