Portrait of a Girl and Her Dog

by Terry 7 Replies latest jw friends

  • Terry


    Her name was Cheryl Ann Draper and she was about 11 years old the day she begged her daddy to let her go with him to work at the gas station. He had never let her come along before; no matter how many times she pleaded.
    Her mom didn’t think it was a good idea either, she later told the police.

    “Gas stations are dangerous and dirty and there’s nothing for a little girl to do all day except smell fumes and get in the way.
    So, I always discouraged the idea—but Cheryl Ann was crazy about her daddy and that day was a Saturday.
    Just that one time I gave in. God help me, it was just that one time.”

    I was about 10 years old and lived across the street from the Drapers at 709 E. Baltimore.
    My house faced hers directly across the dusty, unpaved street, and I never had the courage to say “Hi” to her. Nope. I couldn’t do it.

    She had naturally curly hair and a smile that could blind you when she stood in her front yard petting her beloved Collie named Trusty.
    She didn’t speak to me either. I could tell she didn’t suffer from horrible shyness the way I did. She had the confidence I lacked.
    In fact, I’d pretend I didn’t even see her most of the time because I didn’t want to appear rude for not saying anything in the way of a greeting.

    One day I sneaked into my grandfather’s room and “borrowed” the Kodak box camera, I steeled myself with the courage to do the unthinkable.

    My plan was to sneak up behind the broad trunk of the tree in our front yard and photograph Cheryl Ann and Trusty when she wasn’t paying any attention, with a little luck, I’d capture a black and white photo of the most beautiful girl in the whole world!

    My grandmother, however, possessed a clairvoyant sensibility about little boys and their daring schemes.

    She had raised one son, my Uncle Jack, and used to recount stories of his escapades and exploits with a nostalgic sigh.
    I could sense from the way she tilted her head and gazed off into the past, there was deep emotion attached to her memories of his childhood.

    He was 40 years old now and I had taken his place in her affections. After all, he was gone but I was always near.
    Several times each day she would start to say something to me and inadvertently call me “Juh (pause) Terry.”
    The “Juh” was an abortive “Jack” permanently affixed to the forefront of her thoughts. She corrected and said, “Terry.”
    As a boy, Jack had hopped freight trains, explored in sewer pipes, or climbed into neighbor’s garages through open windows to steal things of no possible use to him. She made it sound vexatious—but she wasn’t fooling anybody. He was her delight.
    She learned to keep an eye on him and grew highly skilled at pre-emptive intervention.
    As in watching me when I was sneaky.

    This particular day, her keen eyes caught sight of me (rascal grandson) dashing out the front screened door with something partially hidden under my arm like a bank robber with an ill-gotten boodle on the lam. Naturally, she tailed me, observing as I hid behind the tree, up to heaven-knows-what. I didn’t get a chance to play paparazzi. (Jiggers, the cops!)

    Cheryl Ann and Trusty plopped in their front porch swing.
    This was the only shade, inasmuch as summer in Texas has the sun frying sparks near straight-up noon.
    With no air-conditioning in any houses on our block, it was the only oasis available to escape stifling heat.

    I lurked for several minutes until my grandmother’s voice rang out behind me, “Terry! What are you doing?”
    This young criminal, startled and embarrassed, caught out and no excuses handy.

    “Nothin’—I’m, I’m just playin’. . .”

    Playin’ what?”


    She stepped down off our front porch in her steel blue cotton dress I had watched her create on her Singer sewing machine a long time back. She approached and pried the Kodak box camera from my sweaty hand.

    “Looking to take a photograph of Cheryl Ann?”

    Wow! There it was laid out in front of God and the neighborhood. I was made of glass; my grandmother could see through my intentions straight to the bone.

    I sputtered innocently, although relieved to have shared my secret heart; if only by dint of insight into the snaky shadows of a boy’s soul.

    “Follow me.” That’s all she said.
    She took my sleeve between her fingers and tugged me forward. I was instantly panicked!
    We were headed across the road toward the Draper house!
    Oh my god!

    “Cheryl Ann, honey—could you come out into the sunlight so Terry can take a picture of you, please?”

    I died inside, but my heart leaped—an exquisite intoxication of adrenaline galvanized my skin into tiny bumps.
    I couldn’t breathe and my chest was heaving as though a bronco was kicking the slats out of my chest.
    Yes, I could feel it—I was the man for the job; signed, sealed, and almost delivered!

    Cheryl Ann appeared delighted to have her photograph taken by the creepy kid from across the street!
    Trusty pranced a bit into the grassy front lawn and struck a pose. Cheryl Ann stood facing full front.
    She emblazoned that summer afternoon with a beam of her trademark Hollywood smile.

    The rush I felt was incredible!
    I squared off, hunkered over the camera, caught her in the display as evenly framed as humanly possible, and clicked the shutter.
    It was all over in an instant of time. Improbability and possibility fused themselves into memory.
    The secrets of my Universe on a hot, Texas summer’s day, indelibly captured inside a Kodak box camera.

    I look back through the years at this moment, stuck as I am in the eternal “now.” I can vividly revisit that memory and recall the details of it and translate it partially into words for you at this moment.

    Back then on that day, all I could croak was, “Thank you.”
    Then, I whirled around, coward that I was, and ran as fast as my legs would carry me back across Baltimore Street.
    Inside my grandmother’s house, too many feelings all at once needed to be processed, sorted, absorbed, and memorized for this world and possibly the one yet to come.

    I have no speculations what any of this ‘meant’ to Cheryl Ann. Being a friendly and lovely little girl she had likely had her photograph taken hundreds of times. What that amazing moment meant to me - is right here on this page for your eyes to read.

    2 weeks later, the envelope from the Worth Drug Store was ready for pickup—all the Kodak prints from the box camera, spanning however many separate vignettes over however many months, had been processed.
    Among the prints were some silly snapshots of my Aunt Molly with a tiger-striped kitten in the crook of her arm; a posed, squinty-eyed shot of my grandmother in that same house dress standing in our driveway; some shots of my mom wearing pedal-pushers in the front yard; a snap of me in a ridiculous cowboy hat, straddling a stick-horse, and sporting two-gun holster six-shooter cap pistols.

    There was one more photograph. . . my snapshot ... the last photograph anybody ever took of Cheryl Ann ... alive.

    In a way, I am still angry with my grandmother for being so blunt about it—so matter-of-fact—not even trying to prepare me for the shock of discovering how this little girl with the amazing smile had been hit with a bullet in a gas station robbery when her daddy tried to stop the two men from robbing him of $32.68.
    An eyewitness to the gas station robbery described for the police what occurred.
    My grandmother read it out loud to me from the newspaper, the Fort Worth Press.

    I kept turning it over and over inside my head for weeks, months, and years ever afterward: how little her life meant . . . $32.68.
    Shouldn’t it have been millions?

    I can’t tell you what I said or did when my grandmother read the newspaper story out loud to me. I’m not trying to hide anything—I just flat out cannot remember any part of it. Before and after - but not otherwise. My memory screeches to a complete halt at that point; like the tires on a car driven by two thugs with a pistol. I imagine the scene and I get to the stray bullet and everything comes to an end.

    Well, not quite.

    I have lots of old pictures from down through the years, hoarded and transplanted from house to home and state to state as the calendar pages fall decade by decade. Somewhere in a box or album, I still have in my possession the picture I snapped on one particular Texas summer day.

    It is black and white.
    The sun is extra bright.
    The girl and her dog are there—forever—happy, young, with a future of endless possibilities ahead.
    Trusty, the dog, has his tongue lolling out like all dogs do when the temperature shoots past ninety.
    I can reach for my magnifying glass to try and make out the details of the expression on Cheryl Ann’s face.
    After all, she is looking at me!

    Is there any trace of something in her eyes I’d want to know?
    It’s my own damn fault if I don’t know. People without the courage to speak out their heart’s desires will never know.

    So many moments in life are filled with promise if the intuition to jump in and create happiness out of it are grasped.
    Now I’m an old man.
    Few things in the past can break loose and do me any harm.
    There are only tiny shadows of worry, regret, and longing.

    There remains one small worry.

    I worry that when I die this photograph of Cheryl Ann Draper won’t mean anything to anybody, and it will be tossed away as callously as the way she was disposed of in her daddy’s gas station on Highway 80, west of Fort Worth.
    It was a Texaco station with gravel instead of concrete in front surrounding the gas pumps.
    There was an old Coca-Cola cooler right in front of the entrance. I’ve driven past it many times.

    Once I parked and stepped out and walked about, staring at the little pebbles, bottle caps, and colored glass in the driveway.
    I replay the scene inside my head. Am I morbid or just humanly curious? I really don’t know.
    There is nothing to see but a rusted sign and a ramshackle garage topped by a sheet metal roof with peeled paint saying, “Draper’s.”

    It was shut down and abandoned long years ago after all that happened, happened.
    I can tell you straight out and truly—the place is desperately sad. It sucks your heart out and you can’t stand there for more than a minute without feeling like there is only darkness in the heart of man.

    The photograph remains. I’m pretty sure I still own it. I don’t think I’ve ever been without it.

    You’ve been to Antique Shops, haven’t you?
    You’ve come across old photographs of unidentified people who mean nothing to anybody any longer.
    They are hardly even a curiosity. Why would anybody want to buy them?
    Sometimes, you buy it for the frame and toss the photo into the dust bin.

    Well, this is my little worry—I’m the only person alive today who knows who she is.

    I wrote this little story for her—a photograph in words with her name attached.

    She was Cheryl Ann and she was eleven years old.
    She was beautiful to my eyes. She loved her daddy and her dog Trusty.
    I shared a tiny moment on her last day as the silly neighborhood boy who had a crush on her from afar.
    I dearly hope she was flattered. I truly do.
    “I remember you,” I say in a whisper, thinking of her now.
    Nobody ever dies, as long as there is somebody somewhere who remembers your name.

    "I remember you, Cheryl Ann Draper."

  • IWant2Leave

    Terry you have a gift! I enjoy reading your stories.

  • Diogenesister

    I can't put into words - the way you can, Terry - how deeply your stories affect me.

    They say you die twice....the day you actually die and the last day anyone speaks your name aloud on this Earth.

    So I say my dead one's name's aloud, periodically....

    ....Sarah Jane Norman

    ....Marcus Tracey

    ....Charlotte Alice Lawrence

    ....Gerald Walter Joseph Ashman .....

    ....Joanne Freemantle...

    Now I have a new one to whisper. Cheryl Ann Draper...

  • Terry

    I write essays about people I know, have met, and love.
    It is like putting a message in a bottle and casting it in the ocean.
    Thank you for reading my note and "feeling" what I felt.
    That resonance of emotion makes us human in an honest way and
    amplifies whatever spark of individuality is unique.

    Thanks so much for your kind words and for sharing.
    Cheers to you for that.
    My last words will be simply me reciting the names of my children aloud.
    Children are the essence of all I love:
    Laura, Jason, Vanessa, Terry, Nicholas, Lillian, and Helena.
    That's my final prayer.
    All the others live on ...in my writings.

  • GrreatTeacher

    I'm one of the least emotional persons on the planet, but I do feel emotion when you write, Terry.

    Photos are so quotidian now. It's hard to explain to younger people how much time and patience and expectation went into carefully curating 27 photos that you couldn't see until the big reveal many weeks later.

    Finally getting that stack of photos was so exciting, all the moreso because of The Big Wait.

  • Terry

    So true, Living today in an "instant" world, anticipation is unthinkable and consequently we value things less than otherwise.
    If I wanted something as a kid, I had to earn the money first. That could take a long time. For instance, I wanted a set of weights for exercise. It took me half a year of
    going door to door (foreshadowing my Witness work :) ) to earn enough to buy the barbells and dumbells. The day they arrived was ecstasy.
    Thanks to Amazon, a wait of two days seems like an abuse of customer service.

    Our values are firmly connected to the temporal experience.
    DEATH is so final, inexorable, and incomprehensible - it is devastating.
    The phone doesn't ring ...ever again...with the beloved voice on the other side.

    As I age (more and more) my thoughts return to people I've known and loved who are gone irrevocably. A little bit of them stays with me. With words, I preserve them like that dinosaur DNA inside the dragonfly in amber in Jurassic Park.
  • Diogenesister

    Terry I read the story to me husband (and I burst into tears) we've been married 25 years and I didn't know he had his own Cheryl Ann Draper. A beautiful, clever, five year old girl who was run over - she was in my husband's first class at school. The result of an incestuous marriage her parents had four children...3 disabled ("simple" as it was termed) and one not. Perfect, beautiful, and "very clever" Mary Frost, who was run over by a drunk driver.

    My husband says he thinks of her often. But he doesn't have a photo.

  • Terry

    After my wife died I raised our three small kids by myself, moving back from California to Texas.
    One day, we all drove onto a parking lot as another car was heading out to the street; a beautiful lady with three children in her car.
    Spontaneously we slowed a bit and locked eyes and each of us smiled...perhaps wanting the other person to say something. But - we did not speak.
    Both of us drove away in opposite directions.
    Obviously, by me telling you this, I've never forgotten.
    Five seconds in a long long life - but it is still there.
    The human heart is mysterious about what it holds dear and how it never lets go of
    anything containing the promise of a better life and happiness.

Share this