Spring Cleaning

This spring I'm determined to get through all the pictures my mom boxed up for storage.  As I've been looking through albums and envelopes of pictures, seeing them through eyes of experience, I understand that these icons of memory don't tell the whole story.

Pictures we keep are often staged with everyone smiling at the camera, sometimes wearing their very best clothes, but always in an arranged pose.  It is for us, who lived during that time, to put context to pictures. 

Two pictures stand out to me.  One is of my mother and I, smiling into the sun.  Mom is obviously pregnant, wearing a maternity suit that she wore in so many of the black and white photos taken during that time (1957-1958).  It must have been her best, or maybe the only one that she wanted to be photographed wearing.  She was pregnant with my brother, George Edward. 

The second picture is of my mother, father, and me,  smiling into the sun.  Mom is wearing the same suit, but has obviously given birth.  The pictures has a date stamp on the side:  March, 1959.

What cannot be seen without context is that this picture was taken in the aftermath of a tragic event.  My brother was born, and died, on the same day, March 3, 1959.  My father was tortured by the memory of his first son's struggle to live from that time forward.  My mother, traumatized by the experience, could never recall her labor or her baby's delivery.  For her, the event never happened.  She made an effort all her life to remember her baby, to mark time since his death.  They soldiered on, because they had a 2 year old to raise.  It says something that I have memories of the time just before George Edward was born, and just after.  We were all in one way or another walking wounded.  The photo doesn't tell the story of unspeakable loss.  Just three people, smiling into the sun.  Only because of the context I can provide do I know what it must have taken for my parents to smile.  They stood with their arms at their sides, the only clue that something was not right.

Fifty seven years later, there would be pictures of Kenny and I, on a trip to the Buffalo in the late spring of 2016.  We took several selfies during that trip, and were always smiling for the camera.  I often look at those photos and search our faces for clues to the aftermath of our own loss.  When I look at the images, feelings of emptiness emerge.  How broken we were, with the third member of our family gone forever. 

Images we take and save document our time on this earth.  They tell our story, but we have to provide the context.  Now that my parents are gone, it is up to my siblings and I to remember their lives as much as possible through the images left behind.  I realize as I look through these windows into the past, that I want to write about the people and places I see.  I look at the faces of those long dead, but because our parents were storytellers at heart, my siblings and I have a context for some of these pictures.  It will be a journey of remembered events and new revelations as we put these pictures in the context of our own remembrances. 


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