From the story When Murray Met Helen

Helen stared briefly at the faded ivory-colored cover of the album wondering if she should even open it. This was a man and a family now gone, she realized, and who knew what threads of what stories were preserved within the pages.  

Can you measure a life by what’s left behind? She was curious about the answer, but she also felt oddly protective, not of anything she could hold in her hand, but of what she held in her memory of her friend and neighbor. Part of her didn’t want to know anything that would cast Murray in a different light, or begin to displace or shift her dearest impressions of the man she’d known, if not perfectly, certainly well enough to enrich her life.

On the first page of the album was a handsome black & white wedding photo of Murray’s parents taken in the doorway of a church. His mom, with her tightly curled dark hair, had a smile that brought to mind Amelia Earhart. She was a good six inches shorter than Murray’s father, who was well-appointed in a tuxedo; thinning hair, terse smile, solid chin.

Helen turned the page to find the two of them standing together, still a young couple, in a garden, with Murray’s mother playfully holding a butternut squash in one hand and an ear of corn in the other. Murray’s father, his face now tanned and with a smile so wide you could see most of his teeth, had one arm around his wife and one arm wrapped around a long shovel, with the blade nearly touching his cheek.

Then there was an article and pictures about the Minocqua fire of 1912, a small disaster made worse by a hare-brained and panicked attempt to blow the fire out with dynamite.

On page 6 was the yellowed birth announcement of their son, Murray, from January 1924. And then on the next page, the birth announcement, from 1926, of a daughter, named Claire Louise.

Murray never mentioned he’d had a sister.

Three pages later was the photograph that knocked Helen back on her heels. It was of Murray and Claire together, sitting arm and arm, their legs dangling over a dock on Butternut Lake. It would be hard to picture two happier children. Although they were separated by a half century in age, it was also clear from the photo that Claire Louise, at eight years old, could easily have been mistaken for an eight-year-old Helen. And vice-versa.

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