Just A Photo From The Past

It was just a photo from the past that I came upon that day.

From a dusty shelf in a booth she gazed at me from the gold frame at the antique mall. She smiled faintly as she gazed at whoever took her photo that long ago day.

I’m sure some of you recall this photo of the woman in the gold frame. My flea market relative. 

Today I created a suitcase vignette in the dining room with her photo in it.

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 beckoned to me. Made me wonder who she was and what her life was like. 

Perhaps her true love was overseas in the military and she was waiting for him to return. She has this photo made of herself and sends it to him.

He will often bring it out of his cardboard box of belongings to gaze at, and wish he could put his arms around her, feel the softness of her cheek against his.

He wonders if he’ll make it out of this hellish place alive. To marry her and raise a family. He sits in his bunk and thinks about the two girls and two boys that she yearns for. They will have her dark eyes and his fair hair. 

He will buy them a small house with a yard for the kids to play in. It will be a modest house with a small porch and a porch swing where they can sit and watch the passersby.

He will drive home from work each weekday, and often when he turns the corner onto their street he will see her kneeling there in her garden, the spade beside her, as she tamps down the seeds she’s scattered in the dirt. 

He will feel a swelling in his chest of deep abiding love for the woman planting flowers in their yard. He knows that supper will be simmering on the stove as she waits for his car to pull in the driveway.

Come summer, he will turn the corner and be met by tall colorful zinnias and pretty morning glories twining up the porch column. 

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 just like she does 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 plane headed to the US, he hopes when they go through his meager possessions that they are extra careful with this precious photo. 

But he did make it out. And they married and had three boys. One became a military man like his father, one became a doctor, and the youngest is a pilot. Later 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 brokenhearted but determined to remain in the little house where love and flowers bloomed and children were born. 

She will live on another decade, the years and the clock ticking 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 unintentionally gets put into a box headed to the thrift shop. 

So the photo goes from town to town, thrift shop to thrift shop, her smile pleading: “Take me home. I belong somewhere besides these dusty stores.”

And finally one day I will happen upon her. I will stand in the aisle and stare at her. The frame needs dusting, I notice. 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 imagine that she was someone’s mother, sister, daughter.

But I will be the one 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 baby 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 think 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 before she and my father and sister moved 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 rear view mirror.

Many miles and several years away, when next she gave birth to 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 in February. The skies as grim and gray as they are right now. 

I wonder if, like me, she sometimes looks up at the stars at night, and thinks maybe there is a chance that I am gazing at them too.

I forgave her long ago. She gave me a gift it just so happens.

For I know through whispered conversations when no one thought I was listening, that her life was hard. I believe that she was mentally incapable of keeping her children. She would end up giving birth to six children and somehow manage to lose them all. 

I still sometimes gaze up at the stars. I have no memory of her or my father. They will never figure into my life in any real way. They are mere shadows from the past. Photos in a box in my closet.

I will rescue discarded vintage photos because flea market relatives are better than none at all. You can make up your own stories about them.


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24 Comments

  1. Your folks didn't just give you away, they offered up the only thing in their sad lives that had any value: you.
    You saved them and and maybe let
    them survive with a bit of dignity
    before it all came apart. As far as
    your mum is concerned, find her
    before it is too late. She may no
    t even be a person you'd ever care to
    know but maybe some additional
    perspective might help you to find
    peace. It would be terrible to look
    down at her gravestone and realize
    you're lost your chance at closure.
    The woman in the golden frame does
    look like you! Her expression
    intrigued me. When I looked at both
    sides of her face separately, I saw
    both wistfulness and strength. I
    wonder what she would think/feel
    knowing her portrait was so
    cherished. I think she'd be very
    touched.

  2. Brenda, the story of the woman in the picture was so moving…as was your personal story. I've got to believe that your mother had no other choice…so of course it tugged at her heart, and it she is still alive, that tug has never gone away.

  3. Thinking of you sweet Brenda. What a gifted writer you are! We are the women we are today because of our past, and you are very special indeed. Take care of yourself and know you are loved by many! xoxo ♥

  4. Oh Brenda how does one ever fully get over those thoughts. Thanks for sharing with us and sharing such beauty in everyday life.

  5. Brenda my mom is a very fragile and old 82. She is all I have left in my very small family. I have my husband and 2 sons, but no one will ever call me dear, or love me as unconditionally as my mom. Growing old reminds me of jumping off a high dive into unfamiliar water. The climb up is very difficult, and it is ironic that the most fragile one now has to be the most strong.I don't know which picture reminds me of my mom the most. I want to remember her as a beautiful young woman, but I know the sadness I see in her eyes in recent pictures will haunt me forever.
    Thanks for writing such a beautiful pots, and helping me to delve into my emotions.

  6. When I first saw the picture before I read your words, I thought it was your mother. She is beautiful.
    What a wonderful story, you sure are a writer indeed.
    Maybe the picture is a sign that your mother was thinking of you. How hard that must have been giving you away.
    In my son's case his mother was mildly mentally retarded. He was the oldest of who knows how many. At last count I think 7 . I think his father had three more with another woman. All the children were removed from the mom. She really could not care for them. My son wanted to know about his birth mom last year. I told him what I knew. He called Job and Family services and they said they couldn't give him any information. (What?) Then they said that she had been asking about him. I know that's not true. I doubt if she remembered him. Maybe, just maybe she had asked about them all. I thought that was horrible to tell him that and then not to give him any information. Even with his disabilities he knows his way around the cyber world. He found a FB page with a picture, no posts, and called me to see if it was her. I had seen pictures and once I had seen her. I told him it was her……he was very quiet for a moment. I don't know if he was feeling sad or what. Then he just didn't ask any more. The agency never called him back. I don't know why they act like the adoption was closed. Still think she shouldn't have said what she did.
    You did find your mother didn't you. At least I thought I remembered that. But you haven't found your sibs. I still remember when you were in Texas and that clerk asked you if you knew someone with your last name. That was spooky.
    You have overcome so much. You are strong but have such a big heart.
    xo

  7. Brenda, you know your Mother's day of birth, you know her probable age, you know she gave you up in exchange of back rent due, you know she had 6 more children that she later lost, you said in an earlier blog that you were raised by your grandmother; try to think of any hints your grandmother gave you about your Mom and just try to find her. A lot of women live past the age of 78. She very well may still be alive. In this modern age of technology, there are lots of ways to find her. I truly believe that with the help of all your blogger friends, if you put all the facts out as you know them, your Mother could be found before she dies and you can get a lot of questions answered by her. What is stopping you from trying? What is the worst thing that could happen if you found her?

  8. I am sure that your mother did have tears running down her face and always held you in her heart. It's such a sad situation / heartrending 🙁
    But what a lovely story around the photo…you appreciate this lovely lady's photo in the same manner that we appreciate a quilt or trinket or some treasure that we have that belonged to an unknown other, wondering about it and them, the maker or owner…who knows, perhaps you were attracted to her because she is a distant cousin…perhaps the flower garden quilt that I have was made by a friend of one of my aunts or grandparents cousins back in the 30's…one never knows!
    You have had much hardship, Brenda but you have a beautiful soul and your writing comes from there and probably helps more people than you'll ever know.

  9. Brenda, I wish the story that you wrote could have been about your life, except for the dying part. It is good that you've forgiven your mother. I doubt that she ever forgave herself for leaving you behind.
    I, so wish, we could forget the bad stuff that has happened in our lives. Sometimes life is a struggle from beginning to the end.
    Now, I wish only peace, good health, prosperity and joy for you. Thinking about you !
    Charlotte in Virginia

  10. My heart breaks for you … I have a loving mother and loving brother and sisters. It makes me appreciate even more the wealth I have when I read your story.

  11. Brenda, your own personal story always brings tears to my eyes. Even though you have forgiven your mother, you have not forgotten, which is natural, as it is part of your history, and more importantly, an integral part of it, as it has molded you into the exceptional person you are today: a generous and kind hearted woman of many talents. For, it is our experiences, both empirical and theoretical, that guide us in this world. Thus, your mother, as you, yourself, stated, is the one who has had to live with the experience of 'losing', not one, but six little souls, in her lifetime. THAT experience alone, has got to hurt a lifetime, especially if she is unable to 'lose' the memories of it, and therefore, never find, even a shadow of peace in herself.

    I enjoyed your short story and am awaiting the book.

    xo
    Poppy

  12. If only your other family members had been more willing to talk about your mother and your history with you. they probably thought they were doing the right thing, but it has just left you with a lot of questions, and I am sure a feeling of abandonment. I really do feel for you.
    A few weeks ago I saw the movie Philomena, starring Judi Dench. And, funnily enough, it made me think of you. I don't know if you are familiar with the plot, but it deals with adoption, loss and forgiveness. Although there is a lot of sadness in the movie, there is also quite a bit of humour. I think you would really enjoy it. It certainly left me thinking for quite some time.
    A big hug for you from me.

    Kathy from Tasmania

  13. I don't even know what to say- my eyes and hearts are full of tears. I can tell you that I am sure your mother mourned the loss but thought that she was doing the best thing for you (and, in all reality, probably herself). I am glad that you have an "adopted" mother to look at and love. God bless you, Brenda. You are in my prayers- xo Diana

  14. I'm sure your mother must have thought of you many times. How could any mother who carried and delivered a child not ever wonder about them? It must have been very dire circumstances that forced her to give you up. It's wonderful that you have forgiven her. I'm sorry you never knew your mother's love, and I'm also sorry for her for having to give you up and miss out on all those years of watching you as you grew into the beautiful young woman you became (that I saw from the photo when you were 28, I think?) and the strong and talented woman you are now. Beautifully written, Brenda, I hope you've started on that book that needs to be written, if only for your own eyes.

  15. I try not to think too much about how much I want it to be spring. We have two more months to get through before even a glimmer of spring can be expected here in MN.

    Love your suitcase display. What a wonderful way to use a vintage case.

  16. Brenda, your story of the Lady in the gold frame captivated me. We all have a story and she does too.

    What mother doesn't think of her child? I believe your mother thought of you often.

    ~willa~

  17. so sad your post is today…Your mother of course loved you…how could she not? she chose to give you away..why no one knows but I am sure it was a decision she had to make…you are a beautiful and kind loving person Brenda…whoknows what might of happened to you if she had kept you…we are all Gods children..his love is really all of us ever need as he is with us always…I love the picture of the woman in the frame…Carol

  18. I got teary-eyed as I read your beautiful tale of the woman in the gold frame. Tears began flowing down my face as I came upon your heartbreaking story. I am truly sorry for all that you have had to endure My heart goes out to you.

    I feel certain your mother thought about you with longing. That she shed many a tear. And I will always be grateful to your mother. For she gave us the gift of you.

    Thinking of you…
    Gayle

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