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updated: 11/17/2011 11:29 AM

For Stephanie Penick, a single picture brings back a thousand memories

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  • For Stephanie Penick, this family photograph from Thanksgiving 1950 brings back countless memories.

      For Stephanie Penick, this family photograph from Thanksgiving 1950 brings back countless memories.
    Courtesy Stephanie Penick

 

Whenever I arrive without my camera bag, friends notice.

I love taking photos. In fact, I "wore out" my last camera beyond repair.

My gazillion photos, many taken by family members, are among my most prized possessions.

If you're a young parent with files of digital photos, here's hoping you'll print out images of your children in familiar places. Frame them. Set them around your home and place them in albums. Talk about the experiences to enrich their memories forever.

Framed photos prominently placed throughout our home keep me connected to the folks and good times most precious to me.

Included here is one of my favorite photos, taken in the dining room at my grandparents' farm in Battle Ground, Ind., on Thanksgiving Day in 1950.

I'm sitting at the kid-size table with four of my first cousins. I'm the one with my hands on my plate, right under the turkey being served by Grandma Mitchell.

My parents are sitting on the right side, last seats near the door. My mother is pregnant. My brother, Jim, was born Nov. 30.

The birthday cake is for my older cousin, Dan, and me. Born a day and one year apart, many Thanksgivings found one of us celebrating on the fourth Thursday in November.

As the years progressed, my mother's seven siblings all married. The number of grandchildren grew to 25.

Yet even before the last grandchild was born, the direct descendants of Gertrude and Paul Mitchell had outgrown that dining room, even when we spilled into the South Room with the huge pocket doors.

In the 1970s, my Uncle Floyd arranged for us to share Thanksgiving at the Tippecanoe Battlefield Campground, a National Historic Landmark, down the road and across the railroad tracks from my grandparents' farmhouse. He'd been active in helping to start a commemorative museum at the site, pleased that the arrowhead collection my grandfather had unearthed on his farm was on exhibit.

The wooded area near the Wabash and Tippecanoe rivers played a major role in American history. In November 1811, the Shawnee natives and the white settlers fought in the historic Battle of Tippecanoe. More than 100 men lost their lives in the conflict when William Henry Harrison's troops defeated several tribes led by Tecumseh with the British.

I recall stories about the fertile land attracting farmers as America moved west during the 1800s. Late in the century, my great-grandfather Samuel Mitchell arrived from Ireland.

After Thanksgiving dinner -- and before the almost nonstop bridge game continued -- Uncle Floyd would update us on the progress of the museum. Many of us traipsed through the woods where Native Americans had roamed for thousands of years.

My Aunt Marjorie (holding the infant) and Uncle Don still live in Battle Ground. When our extended family outgrew the campground in the 1980s, they helped find Ross Camp, a Boy Scout camp near Lafayette, where the family tradition continues.

Looking at the photo, I still remember what was kept in every nook and cranny, partly from spending summer vacations in my youth on the farm, helping to prepare and serve lunch to hired hands during harvest.

For instance, before I'd learned the word "recycle," my grandfather, an agricultural economist at Purdue University, brought stacks of documents home from his office that were kept in a little chest along the south wall. We reused the paper, blank on one side, for our artwork. Colorful crayons in all shapes and sizes were kept there, too.

On the right side, there's a large china closet with glass doors behind Grandpa Mitchell. Crystal vases and a collection of whimsical salt and pepper shakers, souvenirs from my grandparents' travels, filled the shelves.

Born in 1901, my grandmother lived about nine years after my grandfather died in 1977. When she moved to assisted living, my aunts and uncles had an estate sale/auction for themselves. They bid for what they wanted, sold the rest of my grandparents' belongings, then divided the proceeds equally.

I'm forever grateful that my mother remembered my fondness for the set of salt and pepper shakers shaped like a roasted turkey on a platter, a souvenir from Charleston, W.Va.

Today, the set sits on a shelf behind beveled glass in our china cabinet "side-by-side" secretary in our dining room.

This photo, that set of salt and pepper shakers and my favorite things simply remind me to count my blessings.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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