With schools open again, it won’t be long before “picture day.”
You remember that day in school, once a year, when we had our pictures made, then waited to see if they were any good. When they came back, most parents bought a few, and kids exchanged small pictures with classmates.
After Kenneth Croslin of Warren County read my February column urging readers to write their personal stories, he sent me a few of his stories, including one about his school pictures in 1964, the year he was in 9th grade at Alvaton High School.
He explained that he was the second youngest of 11 children of a sharecropper’s family in Warren County. His father, Phillip, died of a heart attack while working in the fields at age 51, and Kenneth’s mother, Julia, found a job as an aide in a nursing home, earning 65 cents an hour. Times were tough.
Kenneth got free lunches at school by scraping leftover food from cafeteria plates into garbage cans, then emptying them into a hog lot and disinfecting the cans. He and a classmate burned used milk cartons and discarded teachers’ papers in a burn pile behind the school.
That year when the school pictures came back, Kenneth thought his were good, for a change, and he hoped that “by some small miracle” he’d be able to keep more than just the one 3-by-5-inch picture that he knew would be all his mother could afford.
“The school pictures that were unsold had all been turned back in,” he wrote. “I had stalled as long as I could on returning mine…but my little miracle didn’t happen.”
He’d never thought about what happened to the unsold pictures, until he burned the trash.
“When we poured out one of the cans onto the trash fire, right on top of the heap were my pictures I had returned the day before. I just stood there and watched them slowly curl up from the heat before bursting into flames.
“I could have saved them with no trouble at all and taken them home that afternoon. But for some reason those pictures had lost their shine. I guess I was just too proud, or maybe I thought I would be stealing if I salvaged the school’s pictures.
“It’s a good thing the smoke was thick and stinging our eyes, because otherwise I would have had to explain to the other free-luncher why I was crying. Later, much later, I realized that my little miracle did happen—but I was just too proud or honest to take advantage of it.”
Kenneth Croslin’s story is one of some 250 pages of a manuscript that he titled Calluses and Character: The Life and Times of a Kentucky Sharecropper. He contacted a few book publishers, but so far all of them have said they are not interested in such stories.
We are, Mr. Croslin, and we thank you for sharing this poignant memory of a long-ago picture day with readers of Kentucky Living.