The Book of the Law Found
A couple, circa 1945, sits on a couch in what is presumably their home. The room is decorated in that stuffy wood-and-gilding style that I remember from my great-grandfather's house. Resting placidly in the background on the sculpted carpet (stiff and yet wonderful on children's bare feet) are two opulently carved mahogany rocking chairs with loose flowered cushions in the seats. Between them, a matching table holds a crystal candy jar up to the sunlight feeling its warm way in from the next room. I can see the corner of an end table cut off by the edge of the photograph. It is done in that refined style that was so pervasive before the laughability of art-deco invaded the furniture industry to satisfy the young housewife. The couch the couple sits on is covered in painstakingly crafted white doily work, gathering the lovely smell of old cologne and starched shirts to plant it forever in the dark velour upholstery.
The man and woman sit there posing. He is a stern fellow with amazing eyes that attain that rare mix of a realistic responsibility and a ready chuckle. His long, indestructible hands sit at rest, one in his lap, and one on the couch arm. He looks in a puzzled and yet calm manner at the camera, here to remember him in his black suit and vest, in his stiff white collar and patterned Windsor-knot tie. His lovely white hair attests to his age - born before 1900, before the horseless carriage became known as an automobile, then a car. Before the world went to war. Before the economists patted themselves on the back one minute and then leapt out of Wall Street windows in the next.
His wife sits next to him, hands neatly folded in her lap, left over right. The look on her face is one of that set of generations that put stock in the appearance, but before the appearance was merely a facade to cover what actually happened. She does not hide. She sits beside her husband, the stern man, wearing the customary pearl necklace and gold band bracelets, the elaborate engagement ring and its partner, the plain and powerful wedding band, on her left hand. Her shin-length silk dress is light and not flashy, and her forearms show lean muscle through the wrinkled softness of the years, a testimony to the belief they share in the virtues of hard work. The light reflects off both their glasses as they watch this moment pass in time, neither waiting nor aggrandizing. Soon, they will arise from the sofa and continue to create marriage inside the old house, both of them like two sides of the same coin, ringing in the air with a shimmering timbre when flipped with the thumb.
There is no date on the picture. No name. There is a place at the top where it was stapled to something, a wall, a bulletin board, some place of rememberance. There is only a small "x" pencilled on the back, the mark of someone with organization in their fingers. I can tilt the photograph slightly up and the light parts of their faces disappear in the glint of silver nitrate. They are nameless, but for the legacy they've left in an old book. There is a bookmark at the beginning of Numbers. There are three tear-shaped pressed rose petals deep in Judges, marking the sad story of the Benjamites and the ill-fated concubine whom they abused to death far into the night. Then, there is the silken marker itself, so customary of Bibles. This one, once navy, now a rich periwinkle, lies in the crook of Proverbs, keeping its point on the creation and the call of Wisdom.
Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. For by me thy days shall be multiplied, and the years of thy life shall be increased.