“Grandpa’s Picture Album,” Ensign, June 1984, 62–63
The first Saturday I went to the grocery store with Grandpa Hatch seemed like an eternity. He wandered from one end of the store to the other looking for various items: a particular brand of evaporated milk, an old-fashioned kind of black-strap molasses—he knew what he wanted, but had trouble finding it. All I could think of was what my friends must be doing—probably out fishing or tubing down the river.
I was eighteen at the time, with a new driver’s license, and it was my father’s suggestion that I take Grandpa shopping on Saturdays. “Try to spend a little time talking to Pop,” my father said. “He’s a remarkable person.”
But when we got back to his house that day, all I wanted to do was drop him off and get back to my friends. After all, Grandpa and I had little in common. He had lived alone since Grandma Hatch died in 1957, and the only company he had most of the time was his television set and his memories. I helped him in with his groceries and was about to leave when he emerged from the kitchen with a cup of grape juice for me—his own special juice he bottled himself.
I sat down for a moment to drink the juice, and Grandpa walked across the living room and removed a large volume from the cabinet. I immediately recognized his old photo album. As he sat down beside me and opened it to the first page, I suppressed a sigh and resigned myself to at least an hour of polite attention and pure boredom.
He was obviously grateful to have someone to talk to, and he began telling me about the pictures—stiffly posed men with high collars, round derby hats, and gold watch chains hanging from their vests; women in black silk dresses, looking stern and dignified.
“This is a picture of my father, Ephraim Hatch,” said Grandpa, “and the man in this picture is my grandfather Ira.”
Reality suddenly swept over me like a flood: Good heavens! J. Russell Hatch, my grandpa, had once been young! He had once been my age! When I left for home late that afternoon, my mind was full of vivid pictures from the past. The world around me seemed almost foreign. Instead of cars on the pavement, I imagined wagons and horses and buggies bumping over dusty dirt roads.
The week flew by, and after our next trip to the store I again found myself sitting beside Grandpa Hatch. He turned the page to a beautiful color-tinted photo of a handsome young man. “This is a picture of me when I was about your age,” he said. On another page I saw him seated by a stream with a beautiful young woman. “This is your grandmother, Gwendelyn, when we first met.”
Again I was surprised. My grandfather had once dated girls just as I did! We talked for a long time about dating. It was surprising to learn how some aspects of dating and courtship never seem to change.
I became curious about the pictures. Where had they come from? Who had taken them? “Well,” Grandpa said, “some of them were taken almost a hundred years ago by early photo studios, but I took most of them myself.” Then he went to the cabinet again and took down a worn leather case. “This is my camera,” he said. “It was the best money could buy back in 1907.”
I examined the intricate old camera very carefully, almost reverently, thinking that with this instrument my grandfather had actually recorded his life’s history.
There were pictures of my grandmother with her first baby (my Uncle Harmon) and of my own father when he was young. Through the magic of the album I watched my father grow from a small boy into a handsome young man. There were pictures of family vacations in old tin-lizzy cars, loaded to the brim with camping gear and people.
Grandpa told me of the Great Depression and how they grew acres of onions to keep alive. An innovative and industrious man, skilled as an accountant, farmer, photographer, and businessman, he had raised his family during some of the most challenging times in recent history, teaching his children the value of creativity, innovation, and self-reliance. Then he had grown old, watching his friends and loved ones pass away one by one.
One afternoon, while we were looking through the album, we came across an old picture of a Wright biplane, flying above a cow pasture. “One of the first planes in Utah,” Grandpa said. Born in the horse-and-buggy age, he had lived to see men walk on the moon. But he had never flown in an airplane. It was something he had wanted for years to do.
Grandpa’s ninetieth birthday was drawing near, so I arranged with a local flying service to give him that long-awaited ride. They were honored to do so. They took him over the town, showing him his house from the air and pointing out interesting landmarks. Grandpa was thoroughly delighted.
Later we enjoyed other activities and became close friends. His photo album and our time together bridged what “generation gap” there had been between us.
Grandpa died in 1972, leaving an empty place in my heart. But through the magic of pictures, he lives on in my memory as a vibrant, handsome young man. And he has passed on to his family the enthusiasm for organizing both a written and a photographic history. More than this, he taught me that no barrier between people is too great to be overcome if they really try to understand each other.