Sunday, January 17, 2010

Photo Album

Last Thursday was my brother's birthday. My dad and I went to his house for a lasagne dinner on Saturday night. On the wall in the dining room was a relic from his 50th birthday party a few years ago; five photos of my brother scotch taped to a large piece of poster board. These were photocopies of the originals. My sister-in-law asked if I could find the original photos, which reside at my dad's house, and make real photo-quality copies of these five photos. Since I am staying at my dad's house, and have already done a lot of photo organizing and copying, I agreed. So today, while watching a lopsided football playoff game (Cowboys vs. Vikings), I searched through six photo albums for the photos of my brother, who is three years younger than I am.

I am the oldest of six children, five from my dad's first marriage and one from his second. There are tons of baby pictures of me, but fewer of my siblings as you go down the list from oldest to youngest. Digital cameras did not exist back in the 50s and 60s; buying film and having it developed was expensive. By the time you get to the fourth and fifth children in the family, there are not many baby pictures of the younger siblings. There are no baby pictures at all of my youngest brother, the fifth child in the family, only group photos starting when he was approximately two years old. It might have been that my parents did not have a working camera for several years during his babyhood, as they tried to keep their large brood clothed and fed. (My step-mother tried to rectify this by labeling a baby photo of me as my youngest brother, but it didn't work; we all knew the truth. The background on the photo of me was of the wallpaper in the apartment my parents lived in when I was an infant, not the small Cape Cod house that my brother was born into.)

One of the albums starts with me, goes through all five kids, baby photos, holidays, birthdays, vacations. Towards the end of the album, there are photos of our family trip to Rhode Island, the last week in June when I was twelve - the cottage, the sandy beach, the waves of the Atlantic ocean, a ferry boat excursion. The next set of photos startled me, not by what is in them, but by what is not in them. It is a set of photos taken at the following Christmas, opening gifts in front of a twinkling Christmas tree. My mother is not in any of them. She had died the previous August.

I have seen this album many times before, but for some reason, it was never as stark a reality as when I flipped through the pages today, looking for photos of my brother. On one page are photos of the whole family having a good time at the beach in Rhode Island. On the next page, she is gone, just like that, removed from the pages of our lives.

When my mother was in the hospital that summer, we kids were farmed out to friends and family. My year-younger sister and I stayed with good friends who had kids our age and we had a blast staying with them. The thinking back in those days was to distract the kids from the reality of what was happening. A week or two into our stay with our friends, I remember my dad telling me that I needed to pray very hard for my mother because she was very sick and might die. And when she finally did die several weeks later, I felt very guilty for having too much fun with my friends and not praying hard enough for her.

Today I also perused my parents wedding album, because my sister-in-law wanted a photo or two of my parents' wedding, tangible evidence of my brother's heritage that he can pass down to his own two kids. My mom and dad look very young and very, very happy in their wedding photos, especially the ones that are not totally posed by the photographer. There is one photo in which my dad is carrying his new bride across the threshhold still dressed in her wedding gown, and my mother is just beaming, so happy at the start of a new chapter in her life with this man who had just become her husband. She died quite young, a few years shy of 40, but she had five beautiful children. I can only hope that her relatively short time with my dad and with her children was a happy one.

No comments:

Post a Comment