For the Light That Is Reflected

Treasure appears when the hunter is ready to see it.

Between Christmas and New Year’s, the unnamed university closes all non-essential offices to conserve energy, and by “non-essential,” the university means “offices without trucks and shovels.” I don’t mind and plan projects that require some attention to detail, despite the fact that I have no attention span. A few days ago, I opened an old cigar box I’ve been tossing photographs into for a decade or so and went about scanning the images. Pete did all the actual scanning and I did the sulking, pouting and flouncing off in several colorful huffs. I wanted to do the scanning myself because I’m selfish and crave project-related glory, but the scanner refused to connect with my laptop; it took Pete three tense days to scan the pictures and mail them to me in small batches. I resized, labeled and put them up on Facebook, where many of my relatives were overjoyed to find them and at least one was mortified that his friends could see we were, in fact, dirty guinea wop dagos. Merry Christmas, wannabe cracker, get some self-respect!

I’ve had most of these pictures since my grandmother died nineteen years ago and I’ve shown them to people. Funny thing: this unfamiliar picture turned up in the scanned picture pile. The little boy is my father, but I had no idea who the woman was. One of my cousins asked her mother who the woman in the picture was. “That’s Andy’s mother,” she said and my heart skipped a beat. It’s a complicated moment. It suddenly dawned on me I’d never seen a picture of Giannina, the image of her in my head came completely from stories and I didn’t even know that. I believed she was thin, severe and had dark brown hair, but here she is lush and has light hair. Her face also seemed strange until I looked at the picture under the biggest magnifying glass I could find and recognized her son Andy’s – my father’s father’s – features. Giannina died just about the time I was born. Where are the other pictures of her? Why had I never noticed this picture before?

For Christmas, I got to see my great-grandmother’s face when she was just about my age. What did you get me?

A picture may be worth a thousand words but this one won't shut up.

After she died, my grandmother became mysterious. She’d told some carefully chosen stories of her childhood, a few about her young married life and almost nothing about any time between my father’s birth until I was a teenager. She told stories about her extended family, but left out most of her own. I did not know until I was a budding drama queen that my father and Auntie InExcelsisDeo had a sister who’d died in childhood. It was like a spell broke when I told the assembled family I knew there had been another baby. After that, her name was mentioned. Gram told me lovely and terrible stories. Throwing open a once-locked door was the only way I got anywhere. After she was seventy, Gram told me she missed that little girl more with the passage of time – that you’d think it would be the other way around, but it wasn’t. If she’d lived another ten years, I’m not sure how much more about her life I would have ferreted out of her, since I only saw this picture days after she died. She was smart, tough, critical, stylish, emotionally distant from her family, always the adult and lonely. Everyone leaned on her and she had no one to lean on. Despite everything I knew about her, I did not really know that she had once been young and beautiful. I didn’t know she’d ever had a carefree moment in her entire life until I saw this picture, hidden in a coat closet in the bottom of an old box.

3 responses to “For the Light That Is Reflected

  1. Only once did I get a glimpse of Hilda (mom’s Mom)’s disreputable past- when I took over my then-fiance to be social. She admitted then that she had dated a famous boxer, but only briefly. She said she walked out with a lot of boys back then. There is still a mystery of how Aunt June and my mom are only 11 months apart, and have different moms, and Mom insists they were both born IN wedlock. There is much they refuse to talk about still – and Hilda and Walt and June are gone, and Mom still won’t discuss it.

  2. The facts of when they got married are accessible. The facts of when they started dating, not so much. Walt married Hilda a month after June was born, and June’s mom died between June’s birth and the marriage. June’s mom was ill for a while, but I don’t know how ill or for how long. I sniff a scandal, but nobody wants to spread the dirt.

    It’s really none of my business in truth, but that doesn’t stop me from being curious.

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