Today I was looking for the perfect picture to put on the first page of the unveiling program I am creating for my mother’s unveiling this Sunday. It is her birthday today, and is a day charged with emotion and tender feelings that emerge from their hiding place slightly beneath the service. I sat on the floor in her now deserted living room on the other side of our family room and opened the doors to cupboards that house the memories. More than twenty photo albums lined up, dated and labeled. They are doors to the past and their somewhat faded pictures jolt memories bubbling up from deep places. The photographs are frozen moments, happy smiles, laughing at unknown jokes, glamorous figures holding burning cigarettes, frolicking children with secret stories and the cherished pets, long gone.
Where was my mother? In 1929, a little baby with a sister seven years older, a mother who was unpredictable and a father who traveled on trains selling women’s blouses. Who was my mother? A young woman in saddle shoes, knee socks and shorts pretending to play a guitar newly married in her new New York apartment. What was my mother? A young teacher with a picture of her Room 14 graduating class in the pages of her photo album mixed among her family photos: she cared that much. When was my mother? The happiest in her first real home on Ethel Avenue, decorated to her pleasure complete with a swimming pool, weekend barbecue parties, family holiday dinners and a sweet smelling orange tree outside her office window. Why was my mother? A curious woman, engaging others in conversation about books and politics, places she longed to see and some she had seen her whole life. How was my mother? A grandmother partial to lovely, signed, illustrated children’s books, tea parties, special day trips and newspaper clippings sent with the recipients name written on them, “For Amy.”
I found the picture of her with my oldest daughter on the day she moved away up north. My oldest in her college tee-shirt, my mother a good five inches shorter with a sad smile and the sleepy look of an early morning. My mother also took pictures of my daughter’s car, crammed with everything she owned, filling all of the places that we would no longer fill, and the last picture of her driving off, with the scared happiness of a life beginning.
My mother was good at observation, introspection and analysis. She could see inside where no one else was allowed to visit and she could share so much of herself that I have still kept some of her, safely tucked away inside of me. Happy Birthday Mom.