My grandmother is turning 91 next month, and we figured that, as the last of her generation, we would pull together pictures of her sisters to share with her. Help alleviate some of the loneliness. Only… there aren’t any pictures. No one has pictures of her or her sisters, other than a few wedding photos and one when she was gorgeously posed at a swimming pool (Jane Russell had nothing on my grandmother). But decades and decades of pictures are… not there. There are a few taken of her in profile, a few more of the other sisters- in profile- but that’s it.
My mother had tasked me to look for pictures of Grammy, because surely, surely there are some from THAT trip- that trip to meet James, the trips to meet the babies, the trip when we were traveling through… surely. And so, I dug out my boxes and boxes of photographs from my life. Which was a feat…
I have moved houses 8 times in the last nine years. Since I became an adult at 21, I have lived at 18 addresses. My mother had my addresses listed in her address book under C for Claire, H for Hughes, L for Lynch, and has now resorted to D for Daughter. (Don’t ask- jobs, graduate school, fires… lots of reasons). That’s a lot of entries. That’s a lot of packing things up, putting them into boxes to move on to the next location. I have managed, like a turtle, to carry most of my memories with me from place to place. The photos have survived a fire, a flood and Two Men and a Truck. I even managed, during down times to organize some of them.
Which means that when I was out of a job when the children were 3 and 2, that year was very well-documented. When I was homesick when I went off to graduate school, I have those years very well documented. Elizabeth’s first year of life when I wasn’t working? Very well-documented. Ray’s first year of life when Elizabeth was 1 turning 2? Still in the Eckards bags. His second year of life when we were going from doctor to doctor and therapy to therapy? Still in the Walgreens bags. Eckards went out of business in our neighborhood that year.
I was supposed to be looking for pictures of my grandmother. But instead, I went wandering down Memory Lane. I looked at pictures I have had since I was living on my own at 19. In the space of an afternoon, I relieved 25 years- And there were several things that struck me.
The first was how rarely our family has documented itself. I have whole albums of the children only because of James’ love of the camera. He handles social situations by being the Camera Man; by documenting it, he doesn’t have to be as involved. But before James, I have a couple of parties, a couple of activities, and some “moments”, but not a lot. My family tends to see the camera as intrusive, and we avoid it. I have no pictures of my uncles, very few of my mother, a publicity shot of my Daddy, and two of my grandparents. Even my wedding- a couple of shots of my family and that’s it. Lots of the babies, lots and lots of pretty views- but very few of people.
The second was how absolutely happy I looked in some of the old photos. I know that I wasn’t completely happy- that I was anxious about work and school and sweethearts- but in most of them, I am with friends, we are having a good time and I was absolutely incandescent with joy. Incandescent. How full of love and life and joy I was. And how in more recent pictures, I am tired and I am wary and I am proud and I am so many things, but that purity of emotion that youth posseses is gone.
The last thing that I realized, which is the hardest to admit, is that there was/is a huge difference between my two children. Elizabeth is my child diagnosed with autism, but her baby pictures, her toddler pictures, her preschool pictures- show my happy, smiling baby, posing for the camera. There are several pictures where she is absolutely balled up with joy as she grabs her toes, as she squeals, as she reaches for me. There are some where her sensitivities are clear, as I comfort her at the beach, as she tries to do Tummy Time, but overall, she was a joyous baby. Incandescent.
Ray’s pictures… Ray’s pictures are almost all of either him fussing or him watching. Ray- my child without a label for so long, who has been diagnosed with Tourette’s but not autism- looks out at the world with wide, anxious eyes. From the beginning, he looked startled and fearful. And we have very, very few clear shots of him. In most pictures, he is a blur, a movement, a profile. There are a few exceptions- a precious few where his bright blue eyes are snapping with intense joy and he is interacting with someone- normally Elizabeth. Those were the pictures we handed out to family. Those were the ones that we passed around. But there were achingly few of them.
This shot captures it- taken about 5 years ago for Halloween.
In the boxes yesterday, I saw how my children are such a part of me and my family. How Elizabeth lights up from within like I did. How Ray’s dislike of the camera is a trait that is, apparently, inherited. Although his profile is all Lynch, the turning away from the camera is all Silcock. How necessary, and yet how uncomfortable, the camera is for documenting things.
I went to bed exhausted, as I told James, from “my emotional journeys”. It was very difficult tracing those paths. Of remembered joys- of remembered heartbreaks. Of realizing how many, many choices were made along the way. Of recognizing how events in your life can both stoke and grind at the light within you. Of recognizing how far down the road I’ve come, and how far I’ve yet to go. Of being disappointed that I don’t have pictures to help my grandmother’s loneliness, but I do have pictures that make me grieve. And laugh. And smile wistfully. And post random “Do you remember?” pictures on Facebook. Oh yes, I have those…