Sunday, May 6, 2012

Who Was That Masked Man?

“When confronted by a difficult problem, you can solve it by reducing it to the question, ‘How would the Lone Ranger handle this?’“

A few weeks ago, I asked Mr. Breedlove, a professional photographer I’ve known all of my life, to restore and enlarge an old photo of Mama and Daddy. Today, he stands before me having just handed over the results of his meticulous work. He is preening and grinning like Miss Texas.

“It’s beautiful,” I exclaim before slipping on my reading glasses to look at it in more detail. I gasp. “Mr. Breedlove? Who is that man?”

“Why, it’s your daddy.” He peers over my shoulder. “Isn’t it?”

I shake my head. “Mr. Breedlove, I don’t know who that is. I always thought it was Daddy because of the hat but now that it’s enlarged, I see that it’s not. I’ve never laid eyes on that man.”

I continue to stare at the beautifully restored, hand-colored portrait of what I had previously believed was Mama and Daddy. “He looks almost like a cowboy.”

 “Let me see!” Mr. Breedlove snatches the photo from my hands. I’m too confused to get all huffy over his blatant rudeness. Holding the 10 x 12 enlargement out as far as his arms will stretch, Mr. Breedlove stares at it. When his mouth drops open, he looks like he’s witnessing the Second Coming.

“As I live and breathe,” he mutters in a tone akin to a prayer. “It’s the Lone Ranger.”

 My turn to snatch the photo. My mother was beautiful, still turning heads way past her 70th birthday. Daddy looked good too, but where Mama was photogenic, Daddy couldn’t take a good picture to save his soul. I quit looking at him in photos long ago, preferring to remember him in the flesh rather than a possum in the middle of the road.

Maybe that’s why I never looked hard at the stranger standing next to my mother until Mr. Breedlove enlarged the photo. The original was small, badly wrinkled and yellowed with age. I blink a time or two before peering again at the photo. “Holy Cow! I can’t believe I never noticed this.”

Mr. Breedlove jumps like a frog in a Mark Twain tale. “What? Is there somebody else? Is it Tonto?”

“Calm down, Mr. B.,” I say quietly. “Before you call the National Enquirer, you need to seriously chill. Nobody in this photo is famous. It’s not the Lone Ranger or Tonto and it's not Roy or Hopalong, either.”

 “Then why did you yell ‘Holy Cow?’ You made my blood pressure soar.” God help me if Mr. B. has a stroke.

“Sorry I yelled. Take a look at the man’s eyes. They are hooded with dark circles underneath. It makes him look like he’s wearing a mask.”

“It’s him I tell you!” Mr. Breedlove jerks the photo from me again and studies it as though it’s a silver bullet. This yanking back and forth is making me dizzy. Mr. B. shakes his head like a wet dog.

“That mask is very significant, if you ask me.”

My first thought is that he’s got to be kidding. My second is that Mr. B. doesn’t know how to kid. I smile as though he’s making a lick of sense, then I slap my forehead and feign a Eureka! “It’s coming back to me. Now I know who that man is!”

“You do? Is he a cowboy from the other side?”

Mr. B is starting to scare me. Somebody needs to tell him to ease up on caffeine and late-night TV.

“The other side? Naaah.” I reach over and gently take the photo from his trembling hands. “It’s Uncle Mac, my mother’s step-brother! I didn’t recognize him because I only met him once when I was little. He lived on an oilrig and didn’t like people and only came to see us two or three times. Shoot! I forgot all about him.”

Mr. Breedlove looks as though I’ve snatched away his one reason for living. He purses his lips, raises an eyebrow and sniffs. “Was it necessary to lead me on like that, missy? I’m a professional and I don’t like being the butt of one of your jokes.”

 Just wait till he reads the column I’m going to write.

“Now, Mr. Breedlove, you’ve known me for years. You can’t think I would do that, can you? I’m as shocked as you are to find Uncle Mac in that photo instead of Daddy.”

He is still grumbling so I lead him out to his car. If he’s going to pitch a fit, I’d just as soon not watch him do it. “Thanks again, Mr. B., for the beautiful restoration. I just wish Mama could’ve seen it. She’d have been pleased.”

I am talking to his taillights as he sticks his nose up in the air, directs his eyes to the road ahead and drives away in a huff. I wave goodbye. He does not wave back. I slam the front door, snatch up the picture and stare at it again.

Who in the heck is that masked man standing next to my mother? I don’t have a clue, OR an Uncle Mac.

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