They say that eyes are the windows to the soul.

My father’s eyes look different to me in the few pictures I have from his last years.

The one below gave me shivers when it appeared last week on Facebook.

The photo comes from the 1979 Lititz, Pennsylvania, high school yearbook, The Warrian.

Daddy’s last job, after he sold his cows and equipment and left farming to others, was to join this group of Warwick High School custodians.

I graduated from that high school in 1966, when Daddy was still a dairy farmer.

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H. Richard Hershey stands tall on the left side of this picture, looking directly into the camera. His eyes reach me from the grave. He’s been gone 35 years now.

Daddy looks healthy and strong on this picture, but already his internal organs were thickening, causing him to lose breath, get cold, dizzy, and faint.

Within a year of standing in front of that coat closet for a group picture, my father would be dead.

None of us knew that then. But something about this picture makes me think that his eyes knew. They make me forget the conflicts I had with Daddy as a teenager, documented in my memoir Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World. They make me remember the timelessness of his best self, the kind man he was at his core, his spiritual center. I look at his face and remember words he often spoke to me. I can almost hear his voice:

“If you can’t say anything good about someone, don’t say anything at all.”

What words do you remember from your father (or mother)? Have eyes ever spoken to you from a photo?

Shirley Showalter

30 Comments

  1. Maud on August 12, 2015 at 7:23 pm

    While my father and I were estranged for several years, I saw a current photo of him on Facebook. He looked old, and his eyes were tired. I thought “Why am I so scared of him?” We’ve since reconciled and we’re on our best behavior to not push each other’s buttons. We have to keep the boundaries up for it to work, so we’ll never be especially close, but it is what it is.

    • shirleyhs on August 13, 2015 at 4:52 pm

      Hi Maud. Welcome to this website and to Magical Memoir Moments.

      Thank you for showing us that our fathers faces have an impact on us, whether our fathers are alive or have died. It seems that seeing the photo on Facebook gave you the opportunity to get a little distance from your conflicts. It gave you the power to reflect and to decide how much power he has a right to in your life. Have I guessed correctly? Hope you come back and continue the conversation.

  2. Carol Bodensteiner on August 13, 2015 at 10:11 am

    This post brought tears to my eyes, Shirley. My sister and I looked through 30 years of albums my mother created, documenting her and Dad’s lives after they left the farm. I didn’t see them age – not really – at the time, but the photos told the tale. As I looked at my dad, I could see the pain he was in etched on his face and in his eyes. Makes me wonder how often we REALLY look at people.

    One of the things my dad said often was “No debt. If you have to take out a loan, pay it off as fast as you can. The interest will kill you.” Spoken like a true survivor of the Great Depression. I’ve lived by those words and never regretted it.

  3. Merv Horst on August 13, 2015 at 10:17 am

    My mother often said the same thing. “If you can’t…” but also “The future lies before you like a field of fallen snow, be careful where you tread it, for every step will show.”

    • shirleyhs on August 13, 2015 at 10:27 am

      Thanks, Merv, for bringing your mother’s adage into this conversation. I will wrote that one down and will slip it behind the painting of “Mrs. Horst” in our house. How appropriate that in the painting she is not looking at us but we see her back, indicating that she is looking ahead, not behind.

  4. shirleyhs on August 13, 2015 at 10:24 am

    You know what it is like to gaze at photos and see now what you couldn’t see then, Carol. Thanks for recognizing the poignancy of our encounters with our blindness and our own and others’mortality through these images from the past.

    Was your father’s pain a physical or emotional one? Did he grieve leaving the farm?

    Your father’s saying is one my father would have loved to follow. He hated debt so much, but he couldn’t avoid it when buying the farm.

    I tend to be the fiscally conservative one in my family also. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Marian Beaman on August 13, 2015 at 10:56 am

    I always thought you favored your mother, but now I see your dad in some of our features too. A direct gaze to me always bespeaks integrity.

    My father was known for making threats and quoting scriptures for our admonition at home, but I remember his two most quotable attempts at humor:

    โ€œIf you donโ€™t watch out Iโ€™ll put your head between your ears!โ€

    “Are you glad you’re happy?”. . . with a smile.

    Eyes in photos never lie. When I look at family photos from various generations the mouths sometimes don’t match what the eyes are saying. I notice the contrast.

    • shirleyhs on August 13, 2015 at 2:49 pm

      I’ve been rolling that thought around in my head since I first read it, Marian. “Eyes in photos never lie. When I look at family photos from various generations the mouths sometimes donโ€™t match what the eyes are saying. I notice the contrast.”

      Body language is such a powerful communication method, and it sometimes gives people away when they try to fake an emotion they don’t really feel. I’ll bet we could both write blog posts on that subject!

      Your father’s humor was probably a little like Daddy’s — infrequent enough to be remarkable. Lame enough to deserve our underwhelmed responses. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Barbara McDowell Whitt on August 13, 2015 at 11:12 am

    Shirley, just yesterday I was looking at photos of my parents (which are on one of my bookshelves next to the photo of a young dove taken by your brother Henry – the one which I said I’d like to have on my memorial service program cover with its Psalm 55:6 KJV verse: “Oh that I had wings like a dove! For then would I fly away and be at rest.” And no, my memorial service is not impending. I hope to live long enough to attend our granddaughters’ college graduations. (One is now three and one is still in her mother’s womb.)

    As you may recall, my mother died in 1985 and my father died in 2002. My mother’s photo is a school teacher’s photo. When I look at it, I think of her words, “Some day this will all pay off for you.”
    I was making phone calls from my parents’ kitchen in Iowa to set up forthcoming appointments with educators to discuss textbook materials when I worked for an educational publisher while I was still single from 1968-1972.

    When I look at my father’s photo I see his deep set eyes. Like your comment regarding your father’s photo, “They say that eyes are the windows to the soul,” I feel the same way about my father’s photo. It was taken by a professional photographer – arranged by my stepmom – a few years before his death as he sat in a ladderback chair in their living room, wearing – as your father did in his photo – a plaid shirt. When I look at his eyes I feel as if I’m looking into the deep eyes of a man of few words. But when he spoke to one of my three younger sisters or me it often would be while he was polishing his glasses. “Barby….” he would say, and we would all listen to what he was going to say to me (or “Phyllis….” or “Ginny….” or “Ann….”

    • shirleyhs on August 13, 2015 at 3:01 pm

      Barby, what a sweet name. I’m sure it was even sweeter when your dad said it.

      Good to connect with you again. Thanks for stopping by!

      I have a great image of that set of pictures on your bookshelf. Sounds like you too are seeing pictures of your parents in new ways as time passes.

      And, I just want you to know that the picture of the pie you gave me has a prominent place in our kitchen. I think of you and smile when I look at it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Tracy Lee Karner on August 13, 2015 at 2:01 pm

    Your questions always get me thinking, Shirley, and as I contemplated what words I remember, I was stunned that I, a word person, could think of not one particular phrase or proverb. I guess they weren’t prone to repeating themselves….

    Oh, wait, as I sat here writing, it suddenly came to me, the phrase both of them said at least once a week (illustrating that I always do my best thinking when writing). “One day at a time,” they said, which has often prevented me from giving up when overwhelmed.

    But more than words, I hear the cadence and tone of their voices, especially my father’s when he’s telling a family story about his grandparents, aunts and uncles. None of them spoke English until they were 8 years old and went to school, and his grandmother never learned to speak it at all. They had a peculiar accent. Imagine Lawrence Welk speaking at half his usual speed with twice his singsong.

    You’ve just reminded me that I need to arrange to record my dad telling the best of those stories, when we vacation together next month.

    • shirleyhs on August 13, 2015 at 3:25 pm

      Thank you so much for these kind words, Tracy. I love seeing you sitting at your desk, your mind an open book, when Memory does her Magic. (“I always do my best thinking when writing.”)

      What nationality were your parents? It’s very easy for me to hear Lawrence Welk accents in my head. Pennsylvania Dutch accents sound a lot like his.

      I LOVE this description and this goal: “Imagine Lawrence Welk speaking at half his usual speed with twice his singsong.

      Youโ€™ve just reminded me that I need to arrange to record my dad telling the best of those stories, when we vacation together next month.”

      Do it, and then write about it. Hurrah!

  8. Kathleen Pooler on August 13, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    Shirley, I can see the resemblance between you and your father in this photo. It’s hard to believe that someone who looked so young and vibrant would be gone within a year. I frequently look through family photos and get all sorts of messages, like my dad saying “cream always rises to the top”, “persistence pays off” and “one step at a time.” Our loved ones never really leave us. They become a part of who we are. You always get me thinking, Shirley!

    • shirleyhs on August 13, 2015 at 3:31 pm

      I see it too, Kathy. And my sister-in-law made the comment that my son looks a lot like this picture also. I have my dad’s broad forehead and long back. I knew that, but there are other resemblances harder to identify than those, and I think you have sensed those. Thank you.

      It’s so true that our loved ones never really leave us. I’m glad this post got you thinking and remembering, Kathy. Thanks so much for telling me.

  9. Warren on August 13, 2015 at 5:32 pm

    Well, Shirley, I do not see the (your) physical resemblance with your father. However, my initial response was, “She married her father!” I have not seen Anthony for many years but my guess is that, as he ages, he will increasingly resemble his Grandpa Hershey.

    • shirleyhs on August 14, 2015 at 2:21 pm

      Warren, I’ll tell Stuart your thought about marrying my father. ๐Ÿ™‚ No one ever said that before, but there’s some truth to it for most women, I think.

      And you are the second person to say that Anthony resembles his grandfather. I can see that also.

      Thanks for your comment. I’m always happy to see you here.

  10. Joy Landis on August 13, 2015 at 7:54 pm

    Shirley, my daughter credits me with “if you don’t learn to cut your waffle, you won’t go to college. ” and, “be nice to everyone at Camp Friedenswald because you’re going to see them over and over in your life.” Which she says is true.

    • shirleyhs on August 14, 2015 at 2:26 pm

      Ha! Love this. No way to avoid those Mennonites. I hope she sees her Friedenswald friends when she enrolls at Goshen College. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Way to go, Mom!

  11. Henry hershey on August 13, 2015 at 11:08 pm

    “You can lead a horse to the water, but you can’t make him drink.”

    • shirleyhs on August 14, 2015 at 8:39 am

      It’s funny that you remember that one. I don’t. That’s one of the most interesting things about families, brother dear. I hope this one has a story you are going to tell me.

  12. Marylin Warner on August 14, 2015 at 12:08 am

    This is a touching and powerful reminder that we never know what next year–or tomorrow or even tonight–will bring, Shirley.
    My father was a successful businessman who respected common sense as well as education and intelligence. When high school friends came home from college and we all met at our house for dinner, he would discuss and listen and be patient as we tried to sound oh-so-educated-and-know-it-all. Afterward he would say, “You don’t want to become one of those people who sounds book smart but people dumb.”

  13. shirleyhs on August 14, 2015 at 8:43 am

    Marylin, my father, who never went to college, would have loved that quote. He loved the idea of “horse sense” and stayed far away from arrogance and pretense.

    What I like about the way he told you this is that he recognized you were young and didn’t want to offend you or your friends. So he put the image in the future and showed you choosing to become wise.

    And now you have a story of his wisdom inside you as you exemplify both book smart and people smart.

  14. Janet Givens on August 14, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    Such a powerful question you ask, Shirley. Really. My grandmother was the photographer of the family and when she died, I inherited so many photos that I have filled five large photo albums with them — only up through 1975, when my kids were very young (in fact, I realize, one wasn’t born yet). One of my stops on my bucket list is to revisit those albums and see what new things I can discover. You have spurred me on. My dad died when I was 7 and my memories of him are very few. But important. I realize with your post that I have no memory of his voice. I can see him, but I can’t hear him. Hmmm. Sad. Time for a walk in the woods to restore me.

    • shirleyhs on August 14, 2015 at 1:25 pm

      You know how to find restoration, Janet, as your most recent post testifies! Hope you have a lovely walk.

      We are all, those of us who are Baby Boomers at least, standing on the threshold between our parents and our children and grandchildren, hoping that we can share images and voices from the past that will help the next generation on their way.

      Good to connect today, Janet. As always.

  15. Elaine Mansfield on August 14, 2015 at 10:38 pm

    Gorgeous. Beautiful. There is so much softening and forgiveness in hindsight. He must have been young when he died, Shirley. My dad was 44.

    He was ill and gentle, very maternal and caring when I had health problems. One of his favorites was “Feed a cold, starve a fever.”

    • shirleyhs on August 15, 2015 at 11:07 am

      You lost your father at an even younger age than I did. Mine died the very morning of his 55th birthday — just after midnight. I’m now 12 years older than he ever got to be.

      Losing first your father and then Vic at early ages must make terrible losses all the deeper. Your wisdom touches me. Thanks for bringing it to this page.

  16. April Yamasaki on August 17, 2015 at 6:17 pm

    Love this reflection and photo, Shirley. This post speaks volumes about your father and your relationship with him. My dad quit high school early to help support his mom and younger siblings. I’ve often wondered if that was part of the reason that he valued education so much and would always say, “No education is ever wasted.”

    • shirleyhs on August 17, 2015 at 6:25 pm

      That’s a wonderful saying, April. Of course, an educator would think so. But I’m especially touched to know that these words came to you out of your father’s sacrifice for his family. What a motivator it must have been for you to know you were achieving so many levels of education partly because of that sacrifice. I hope your father lived to see you in many caps and gowns.

  17. Richard Gilbert on August 19, 2015 at 7:26 pm

    Such a moving post, Shirley. I find myself looking into my father’s eyes in photographs, too. A unique thing about the photo you ran here is that most of the people in it, including your father, look right into and through the camera. It is eerie when people do that, as if they are looking at the viewer. I have never understood why some people do this and others stay on the surface of the photo, photographed but not reaching through.

  18. shirleyhs on August 19, 2015 at 8:08 pm

    “Reaching through” is a good way to describe that gaze. And yes, all of these men seem to be communicating with the viewer, each in a different way. Of course, perhaps we fatherless children are looking with more intent, seeing what we could not have seen before. Thanks, Richard, for this comment. Thoughtful as always.

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