If I get hit by a car tomorrow, nobody will ever be able to figure out the photo album situation around here.
I keep finding photographs in every drawer. This is one of the hazards of moving four times in one year. Things got jammed into boxes by the legions of friends and relatives who helped with moves. Or by me. Probably, mostly by me. I would like to be the kind of mom who scrapbooks each moment of her child’s existence. Alas…I am not. The best I can say is that each child has a box full of photographs.
We never got a video camera when our babies were small, either, and so we have exactly two VCR tapes of them. And no VCR machine. Someday, maybe, those tapes will be recorded on DVD. Before DVD’s become obsolete, too.
There is hope for me. I know this because I watched home movies last weekend. Not my home. Not my movies. And they didn’t start out on the shiny silver discs I watched for hours. They captured images of family members from 1940 through 1967. My family members. A great uncle with a love of gadgets shot them. He was no prize in the in-law department for most of his life. A small man, physically and a hard man in many ways. I have forgiven him for his shortcomings. He left behind a gift without meaning to.
Newborn babies, stringers of fish, deer slung on top of car hoods, my great great grandmothers, and more images lit up the screen in the family room as I sat, mesmerized into the wee hours of the morning. Watching their faces as they spoke their silent movie language. Laughing at jokes I could not hear. Lighting a pipe. Holding a china cup for a toddler in a high chair. Christmases and birthdays and time at the lake for grandparents, and aunts and uncles, and cousins generations before me. A quick shot of me as a baby with my grandmother and another one with my sister at age four. Moments strung together like pearls. Priceless, frozen time.
And one very tiny ghost.
In a family blessed with healthy children for six generations, only one child didn’t survive to his first birthday. There are no pictures in the family albums of this baby who was put to bed one night and never woke up. He was rarely spoken about as more than just “the baby” while my grandparents were alive, and even then he was spoken of rarely and almost never by my grandmother, who lived into her eighties. He was their middle child and only son between two daughters. The thing about grief that people don’t understand is that time doesn’t heal it. Mothers age..and their grief ages with them.
But he’s there. In those times they shared. In one shot, my grandmother holds a baby. I’m not certain, but I choose to believe it is the uncle I never knew.
Somehow, I think that’s what my grandmother would want.
2 Replies to “Ghosts”
I think boxes of old photos are like gold mines. Unfortunately, we do not always know all people in the pictures but we should investigate more and document what we find.
I’m approaching 2 decades in this family, and had never heard about this baby. Thanks for your beautiful writing, Ter, and for being the family historian in many ways. I say it often, but you are the heart and soul of this family. Thank you.