Today has been another gray and colorless day. Cold and still. No birds in sight. I yearn for spring.
I created a suitcase vignette in the dining room. I’m sure some of you recall this photo of the woman in the gold frame. My flea market relative.
I was drawn to her in Texas, and have carried her along with me ever since. There was just something about her half smile, the look in her dark eyes, that has beckoned me. Made me wonder who she is.
Is it a wedding photo? Maybe a graduation? Maybe she was married and her husband wanted this photo of her made.
Perhaps her true love is overseas in the military and she is home waiting for him to return. She has this photo made of herself and sends it to him. He will bring it out of his cardboard box of belongings to gaze at, and wish he could put his arms around her. And feel the softness of her cheek against his.
He wonders if he’ll make it out of this hellish place alive. To marry her. Have a family. He sits in his bunk and imagines what it might be like. Two girls and two boys, that’s what she told him she wished for. With her dark eyes and his fair hair.
He wonders if he will be able to buy them a small house, with a yard for the kids to play in. It will be a modest house, just a square with a small porch, much like this one.
She will plant flowers in front. He will drive home from whatever job he’s found for himself. And when he turns the corner onto their street, he will see her kneeling there in the dirt, the spade beside her, as she tamps down the seeds she’s scattered there.
He will feel a swelling in his chest of deep abiding love for the woman with the thin shoulders kneeling in their yard. While supper simmers on the stove and she waits for his car to pull in. He will feel it everyday when it is time to close up shop so that he can return to her.
A few months down the line, he will turn the corner and be met by tall colorful zinnias and pretty morning glories twining up the porch post.
He will park in the drive way and she will meet him at the door, her apron on, and kiss him on the cheek. She will smile the smile you see in the photo.
But, if he doesn’t make it out, it will have been this photo of her that got him through the long months and cold nights. If he doesn’t make it to the line boarding the planes headed to the US, he hopes when they go through his meager possessions, that they don’t toss this precious photo in the trash.
But he did make it out. And they married and had three boys. One became a military man, one a doctor, and the youngest a pilot. They will marry and give them grandchildren to hold and love.
Years will slip away like sand through their fingers. He will die first. She will be broken-hearted, but will remain in the little house where love and flowers bloomed.
She will live on another decade, the silence and the clock ticking in the house such a sad reminder of what was. When it was filled with boys rough housing. While she cooked meals and waited for her love to return each evening from work.
And finally, she too will die. The boys will be scattered across the country with their families. Somehow, the photo gets put into a box headed to the thrift shop, unintentionally.
So the photo goes from town to town, thrift shop to thrift shop, her smile saying: “Take me home. I belong somewhere besides these dusty tables.” And finally one day I will happen upon her.
I will stand in the aisle and stare at her. The frame needs dusting. She will come home with me for a mere four dollars.
I will wonder if my mother might have looked like her.
She looks motherly and kind. It is easy to think that she probably was someone’s mother. But it will be me who claims her and gives her her rightful place in my home. I will dust the frame regularly. I will look into her eyes and wish that she had been my mother. That I was the girl who came along unexpectedly after their boys were in school.
My mother’s birthday was yesterday. I think she would be 78. Sometimes I wonder about her. It is hard to put together a framework when there are no memories to hold it up.
I wonder if she thinks about the infant she handed over. In exchange for back rent owed to the landlady. So that she and my father and sister could move on. I wonder if leaving me behind tugged at her heart.
I wonder, as they drove away from that house, if she looked out the car window and gazed at the house where I remained. I wonder if tears were running down her face as the finality of their decision bore down on her, and she could no longer see the house in the mirror. And I was just a memory.
Miles and miles away, when next she had a boy, I wonder if she thought of me. I wonder if her body remembered that other baby that grew inside her and was born on a cold winter day. The skies as grim and gray as they are right now.
I wonder if, like me, she sometimes gazes up at the stars at night, and thinks maybe there is a chance that I am looking at them too.
I forgave her long ago. She gave me a gift, for I know through whispered conversations, when no one thought I was listening, that her life was hard. That she would give birth to six children and somehow manage to lose them all.
I still sometimes gaze up at the stars. But I was the lucky one. Because I don’t remember it at all.