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BEHRENS: Old photos inspire gratitude for friends

Father James "Jeff" Behrens

Father James "Jeff" Behrens

I have taken pictures all through the years. I have my slides, prints and negatives. I have been scanning them so that I can share them with my family and friends.

It is taking a long time, but it is worth it. I am glad I kept everything -- there must be something good said for the pack rat side of me.

Every so often, I come across something that more than sparks an interest. It can, if I let it linger, light a bonfire of memories.

This morning I came across one such thing. It is a photo envelope from Plains Pharmacy, in Fairfield, N.J. I was a priest in the parish there at the time, which, according to the date on the envelope, was Aug. 10, 1977.

A roll of film cost $8.62 to be developed and printed. It was Kodacolor film and there may have been two rolls, since there are two sleeves in the envelope that held two separate strips of negatives.

I scanned the negatives, which held memories galore. There I am, hosting a car wash given by the youth group of the parish. We had the wash behind the church. I recognize the kids, now grown with families of their own. I am still in touch with almost all of them.

Looking at their faces, one by one, I can see now what they could not have seen. Good times and bad. Healthy and hurtful relationships and marriages. Sickness and, in some cases, way too early a departure from this life.

There are pictures of the church as it was decorated for Advent. Big colorful banners hang from the walls of the church. I recently saw the woman who made them and asked her about them. She said they were long gone. Her name is Mary Anne and she looks well. I will send her pictures of the banners.

And New Orleans. I went with a couple at about that time. It was a convention of sorts and I tagged along. I visited family while I was there. There is a nice shot of the couple standing next to a street car.

There are a few pictures of friends I sailed with on the Queen Elizabeth II. We sailed from England to New York. What a great trip that was. Some of the people in the photo have left this life. Some are still here. It was good to share a voyage with them across the sea.

There is the receipt. Receipts have not changed that much. There is a date and charge number, my name and address and the name and address of the pharmacy.

Charlie ran the pharmacy and Claire worked the register. Charlie had a good sense of humor. When he saw me, he used to say "Someday your prints will come in" -- a play on the similar phrase from Cinderella. I got to know Claire's family very well. I am still in touch with them.

Some years later, Charlie lost the store and struggled a bit till he found another line of work. I think he hoped to keep the store but could not keep pace with the deals being offered by the then up and coming big discount drug stores. I still hear from him at Christmas.

There is a lottery ticket in the photo envelope from the store. A "snap and win" lottery ticket. I scraped off the gold on top of the numbers but in the process scraped off the numbers as well. Maybe I won, maybe I lost. But it makes no difference since in the small print on the back of the card it reads that all prizes had to be claimed by Dec. 15, 1977.

Maybe I could have been a rich man.

But maybe I already am.

I need be still, and look at the pictures, and realize with some humility and gratitude how many people have befriended me. I hope I have been as good and as friendly to them.

There are all kinds of people -- photos do not differentiate between religions, creeds, beliefs, color or nationality. Everyone has a beauty and a magic. We each hold the charm of life and hopefully learn to share it, and, with a photo, keep it to remember.

While I have some life, some years left to me, I will take pictures, and keep the negatives, and pass them on. They really do have something of a life, even after I am gone.

Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Ga. Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His email address is james@trappist.net.