I slipped the CD into my laptop and loaded the pictures. I’d made the copies when I was in San Jose staying with my cousin Debbie. I always stay with her when I’m up North visiting my mother. I’m in too much pain dealing with her without backup, and Debbie’s support and caring provide comfort for a time that assaults my protective shield.
I’m looking at an enlarged black and white photo of my grandfather, Meyer, with the four daughters of his marriage to my Grandmother Minnie, then dead for three years from metastacized breast cancer. Meyer was referred to as “the bastard”, his cruelty this family’s legend.
The stories of my grandparents, not just the four biological ones but the two I acquired at seven, are a core part of who I am—not just physically but most critical, emotionally.
Meyer stands in the middle, a wide grin atop a pinstripe double suit. I was shocked to recognize that face 12 years ago in the delivery room, looking at my youngest grandson. Each of the four dissimilar sisters that flank him have their own tale, but my eyes pop to his far left, to my mother, the eldest.
She is the shortest, and she looks happiest, even happier than the bride, her sister, Annette just to her right. It’s a sunny day, and she looks so young and carefree at age 26. I get a dull sinking feeling in my chest and abdomen as I write these words, even as I did a few years ago when I saw the photo for the first time. There is almost 70 years of me tangled threads in the proof of her detachment and lack of engagement with the little blonde girl left behind in LA when she fled to Oakland.
It’s a bright day and flowers abound. A tall blooming trumpet vine advertises behind Mother and Annette, there are flowers in the sisters’ hair, on Annette and Mother’s dresses, and in baskets hanging from the porch roof of the light brick and stucco house behind them. Through the shadowed glass window, a flowering plant, bookcases and furniture peer through.
I look at her again, her hair was wavy and swept back from her still youthful face, dark brown with reddish highlights before she started dyeing it red. Manicured polished nails are visible on her arm folded to clasp her stylish purse, no other purses are visible.
A fresh wave of pain grabs me when I look at her picture—she is free, and enjoying her young life. She’s rid herself of the burdens she could not bear—the toddler whose independence, energy and contrariness were beyond her, the volatile critical husband, and the child in her womb she secretly disposed of after she left LA. She returned North to draw the last succor from her dying mother.
Because of her decision, my life took a different course, perhaps a better one. Her return almost three years ago after a 65-year absence seemed unbearable, breaking an old, thick scab over and over, extending the healing of the wound.
Now I realize it is an amazing gift. At almost 89, due to her own determination and perseverance and some small measure to my long distance intervention during her physical and emotional crises, she is thriving. I block myself from letting her into my long protected inner chamber, but the layered little girl inside of me now has her Mommy back.