This morning I asked my daughter what she was thinking about. She was lost in thought and I thought maybe it was about a film we had watched together. I asked her if she was thinking about the film and she replied by pressing her index and middle fingers across my temples, smiled and said “No, I’m wondering what you’re thinking about.”
I am often wondering the same thing about my beautiful, thoughtful daughters and also my own mother.
I’ve seen this photo float to the surface from ancient piles of my family photographs before; it has ended up on the kitchen countertop in my mom’s house more than a few times in my life. Each time I see it, I see something more; looking at it a day ago, I noticed a hand pointing towards Santa and I wondered if it was my Gram’s hand; and why had I never noticed that candle glow in the background.
I love this photo. It would be high on my dream list of paintings I’d have commissioned if I had the money to pay someone to paint them. Most of the paintings in my dream gallery are images that exist in my mind; they would like to find freedom and some air to breathe, to hang on a wall, not just on the walls in my head. This photograph is perfect in composition and, if it was a painting, I could look at it and complicate it by wondering what the artist thought when painting each person. What story would he or she make up for each character? I know partial stories of four of the seven who make up this photo.
My Cousin, second from left, grew up to rob a bank at gun point. He was my favorite cousin when I was a little girl; but he was always a bully. Once, when I was five, I had to throw a glass of milk in his face to defend someone else.
Then there’s the beautiful woman in the blue dress with lace and a cameo, whose husband worked for my Uncle (dressed as Santa in the photo). I wonder if she ever had any idea how breathtakingly gorgeous she was and maybe still is.
My mom is pictured here at 25. The baby she is holding is her third, my brother Robert, who was two months old at the time. My own birth was still three and a half years away. Every time I see this photo, I look at my mom and wonder what she is thinking; did she like her life? Six months before it was taken my grandfather, on my father’s side, died of a stroke. And exactly six months after it was taken my other grandfather, my mom’s dad, committed suicide.
It is easy to be unforgiving of your parents and all the ways they wronged you. I have a list of unexplainable wrongs done to me that is pretty messy by any standard. But when I look at this photo and see my mom’s face, and consider that she created the lives of me and my siblings, never complained about anything or anyone, suffered a loss I can’t imagine… it’s easy for me to forgive her for any of the mistakes she made concerning my childhood and growth. It’s easy for me to want to eat a sandwich with her and ask her about her life and what it was like to be her; to be less concerned about my story but wonder about hers. Maybe I’m a lot like my daughter.
I wonder if this photo surfaces on its own as a reminder of loss; a moment stuck midway between the deaths of the fathers of my parents. I wonder what my mom sees when she stares at it.
I wonder what she is thinking.
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