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Christmas Gift

Ralph Hood

Background note to Mark Stevens. This was first published in 1991 in the Madison County Record (AL). You’re the boss on titles, but I think the perfect title is simply…

Hanging on a wall in my office is one of the most interesting Christmas gifts of my life. It's a tiny little photograph —not a print, but the original photo—in a much larger frame which is, I have been told, double matted. I don't know what that means, but I do know it looks good.

Ralph Hood
Ralph Hood

Actually, I had the photo for a year or so before it was framed. It rested in a little wooden box with my toenail clippers, a Canadian coin, and the key to room 1217 at a long-forgotten Marriott Hotel. Wife Gail had the photo framed for me one Christmas, and a fascinating gift it is.

My mother took the picture back in 1927, with a little box camera—one of those “Brownie” Kodak cameras that made amateur photography possible.

The photo is tiny, maybe 2.5 by 1.5 inches. It was taken through a hogwire fence. Since Mother didn't know to get right against the fence and shoot through an opening, the wires are clearly visible in the photo. It was a fortunate mistake. The wires form squares, adding depth and interest to the photo.

Just beyond the fence Mother's shadow appears, with head bent down as she sighted through the little hole in the top of the camera. (That's the way those cameras worked. I remember we had one when I was a boy.) Here again, a professional photographer never would have allowed the shadow in the photo. Mother was no pro, so the shadow shows and, again, her amateurishness makes the photo more interesting, at least to me.

Finally, on past the fence and the shadow, is the subject of the photo. It is a parked airplane, but not just any airplane. It is the Spirit of St. Louis, the airplane that Charles Lindbergh flew nonstop from New York to Paris earlier that same year—not a replica, you understand, but the original airplane itself.

Under the airplane is a pair of legs, but not just any pair of legs. They are the legs of Lindbergh himself, standing behind the airplane.

There is, of course, a story behind the photo . . .

Shortly after Lindbergh became the most famous person in the world by flying the Atlantic solo, he took several lengthy trips, stopping along the way to accept honors and make speeches promoting the advancement of aviation in America. On one of those trips he stopped in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where Mother was a Converse College freshman at the ripe old age of 16 (she skipped a grade or two).

Mother was neither history fanatic nor aviation enthusiast. She was a teenaged girl, and Charles "Slim" Lindbergh was America's hero of the hour. He was young, handsome, and single, and was, at the time, bigger than Elvis ever dreamed of being.

Mother went to the airport and took the picture. That night she, with the rest of the all-girl student body, sang a song of welcome as Lindbergh entered the college for a banquet in his honor. Lindbergh—much shyer than Elvis—ducked his head in embarrassment.

That's the story, and I've got the snapshot. To my amazement, people keep asking why I don't have an enlargement made. That's insanity. There are thousands of large, professionally-made pictures of Lindbergh, but I have the only original snapshot of his legs, the airplane, Mother's shadow and a hogwire fence. I like it as is, and so does Converse College. A print rests in their archives today.

Ralph Hood is a professional speaker. His speeches and workshops, which have helped rocket engineers, salespeople, physicians, educators and health professionals with team building, motivation, customer service and sales, provide hardworking, bottom-line information that can be put to work in the real marketplace tomorrow morning.
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