This is my Mother’s father, and I know that she loved both her parents more than anyone in the world but had a kinship with him that was ordained by DNA. Her handwriting and his is nearly identical. He was a photographer with a darkroom when that was a very big deal. He painted. They liked the same weird foods that nobody else liked and more than that, together they loved the things that nobody else around them truly loved. Art. Beauty. Imagination.
I once had an impression of him, the human, from when I was very, very young, but over time it has been replaced by scattered impressions from small things of a stranger who seems foreign and unlike anything recognizable in me.
My mother took lots of pictures and meticulously put them in chronological order in photo album after photo album, clearly marked on the outside with the dates it covers. All of them, almost without exception, have at least names and dates on the backs of the picture, and sometimes give a little extra notation, like: “Andy Smith and Serene, Yellowstone National Park – 1978 – mosquito bit Serene’s eye”
But for most of my life I rarely took pictures out to examine, but what I did all the time was sit in the front living room behind the grey couch looking out the front window onto Stanley Drive, and pull the books out of the octagonal table in the corner that held the great big green lamp, and look through them. Over and over and over again. A story in pictures. Or, more accurately, my story in pictures. There are tons of other people in the pictures, and there are even ones that I am absolutely not in, but even in those everyone else is clearly a supporting player. Once I am born I am the Sun with a wondrous array of planets and stars in a galaxy that rotates around me.
After all, it was my Mother telling the story. She gave me the part without even making me audition.
And with all the travel, from rich times through poor, not to mention all the parties for kids that she loved throwing more than anything on earth, there were lots of pictures in lots of books. Some years are divided into two or three photo albums. And a few photo albums span two or three years, but not many.
My Mother threw the most intensely and insanely ingenious kids parties I’ve ever heard of. They were absolutely legendary. (Unlike the ones for adults which scared the living shit out of her. She was like the assistant producer of a sitcom whose entire career was riding on a single episode of which every detail had to be absolutely perfect.)
But for kids, especially in those last years before the bonds of childhood are irretrievably altered by the drives and dreams of the mating ritual, but old enough to delight in wild treasure hunts with twists and turns and frights, and the heavenly excuse to be absolutely, unabashedly, and unforgettably ridiculous together with your friends, there was no soul on this earth who threw better parties for kids than my mother. She could pull off absolute wonders with nothing more than a few bucks and 35 more outrageous and infectious ideas for a Survivor-like extreme experience than anyone could ever use in one night.
Well, that is if Survivor was the brainchild of Mary Poppins crossed with Pippi Longstocking.
Oh, no, I went many places yet nowhere; I’m not even close to coming back around to the point, although the way is cleared; but I have to go for now. I’m posting without revision or even a glance at what I’ve written so I expect a mess for now.
I do look like him, though.
And I have misjudged him all this time, which has enormous consequences for the filter I have seen everything through.
Obituaries are notoriously bad for normal people because they tell us all the wrong things. This tells me so little about the man I can now see through my mother’s eyes, and it obscures so many things I saw through my own.
How many times in life do we realize we’ve been blind? And is there any way to speed the process up? Please.
(Asking for a friend.)