Continuing my meditations on the oldest (retroblogged) posts on my blog, I visit the month after I was born.
A picture of my mother, 21 but looking 16, with a wiggling, dark-haired infant in her lap. Holding it (me) nervously as if it might give a sudden lurch like a fish and flip out of her lap. Summertime and we’re both warm. I can see bits of her hair sticking to her cheek, damp despite short sleeves and a skirt that stops above the knee.
A magnificent picture of my great-grandmother, seated in her pearls and a sedate blue-and-gray check short-sleeve dress, holding me in her two hands my feet on her legs and my head raised so she can gaze intently at me. I am so new; pale, plump, and pink. I contrast with her skinny, aged arms, spotted by time and sun, but strong enough for this burden. Her gray hair and the outline of the bones of her skull under her skin place her at the other end of life’s timeline from tiny Dinah. (And now I am far closer to her end than to where this little baby began.) What a thing for the first generation to look the fourth in the face! And how many babes had this woman held in her journey from the end of the 19th century through the tumult over the first six and a half decades of the 20th? Did she want children? Not much option not to have them until not long before this picture. And so she became a wife and a mother and a grandmother and a great-grandmother. A great accomplishment. What other things might she have done if she’d been blessed with the options I have?
On the way to the restaurant where I’m having a late lunch with my laptop, I passed babes in arms and strollers. What options will they have that I didn’t?
I return to the picture. Behind her black folding chair, a cinderblock and board bookcase—Ikea has removed most of those from today’s visual landscape—holding books, many of which are likely still to be on the shelves of my mother’s library. At the end of the top shelf a fancy candlestick—perhaps a wedding gift?—which I recall sitting with its mate on the big wooden sideboard in our kitchen.
To her left, behind my head in the picture, a graceful old piece of furniture with a curved front. Drawers below like a dresser, with a writing desk above. I remember this being beside my mother’s side of my parents’ bed, painted a green reminiscent of weathered copper. And I can’t now picture it anywhere else; I wonder what happened to it? I think all of us must have outgrown it and it didn’t move when they retired. They sold the huge, rambling house I grew up in “as is” and so many things stayed there. Released from our lives.
There is in the picture something big and black atop the back of the desk. My 21st century eye reads it as a wireless speaker, but of course it’s many decades too early for such a thing. A dark black box of paper or wood, with a latch on the front. Perhaps for holding letters and bills and stamps. I was born in the time of paper.
White and pale pink leap out from the picture: her shiny handbag, the outline of a book inside pressing against the soft side; my little baby dress (probably closed at the bottom to keep my feet contained); her pearls; the paper of the newer books on the shelf.
My little right hand is captured in a gesture, middle fingers together, pinky and index held out from the others. Cryptic, but emphatic.
And isn’t that just the nature of infants? Cryptic, but emphatic.
One last picture from this month: my mother and I entranced with each other. She is seated in a narrow armchair, hair in an updo that’s well on the way to a bouffant, wearing the long-sleeve plaid dress again. I am in her lap, resting on her legs, her feet tucked to the side together, ladylike. I look up at her eyes and mouth wide, hands raised, excited to exist and perceive. She is probably talking to me, saying my name, perhaps the name I wear now, perhaps the one that will soon be abandoned as not quite fitting this little bundle. She appears more confident about holding me; mothers learn fast.
I smile in appreciation at that love pouring down on me from her face, and now I close the old photo album, marking those posts private.