images & words
The Time Traveler
On the day that photo was taken, no one knew what questions would be asked seven decades later...
At first, I could not identify any of them. The faces in the vintage photo, circa perhaps 1938, were fuzzy and unfamiliar. In the center, a large cheerful man wearing a crisply starched, freshly pressed Navy uniform sat on a bench, his arms stretched wide, trying to encircle the others.
He had arranged his girth on a bench among a bevy of enthusiastically smiling women, three young men, one disabled teenager, and two children. Strangers all. Or so I thought.
While digging frantically through some memorabilia in preparation for my aunt’s 90th birthday celebration, the photo had suddenly appeared, a visual harbinger of unspoken stories.
At the family gathering, my cousin Janet spoke up at once. “I know them all!" she squealed between big bites of a six-foot long sandwich drenched in oil and slabs of meat and red peppers and pickles.
In the photo was my mom in her early 20s with her siblings and their children. Taken before she was married. Before I was born. Before I knew how she would die and when.
Flooded with conflicting emotions and recollections of almost seven decades, I felt oddly voyeuristic. Like a photo being processed in a dark room in a vat of unpleasant and strongly scented emulsions, slowly all the faces came into focus and were readily recognizable.
It occurred to me that in that photo were the partial seeds of what would become my family tree. In the center, blonde, buoyant and beautiful, was my mother, Helen.
My mother did not know on the day that photo was taken, that nearly 7 decades later, her as yet unborn and mourning daughter would be looking at her incredibly happy face.
A time traveler: I was the future my mother could not yet see staring into a past I had not known.