My parents loved to photograph the sundry events of our domestic life. Both momentous and intimate alike. All the milestones were covered. So were the trivial, trifling and trumpery.
While browsing through our old family albums, it’s always photos of the small everyday things that captivate me the most. The prosaic and mundane events capture my imagination like no other. For it is in these ordinary images that I see the unguarded details and accidental gestures. They become the grand movements that spawn wonder, and where unexpected beauty dwells.
Everything from Ma in the kitchen stirring the Saturday night pot of spaghetti, with the food-worn wooden spoon that had grazed many lips and touched all of our tongues with its tanginess. Or The Old Man sitting in his favorite orange velvet swivel rocking chair, with his oversized horn-rimmed glasses perched on his nose, engrossed in the evening edition of the Times Chronicle. The exquisiteness of the waning summer light glinting through the living room picture window upon my unwitting father takes my breath away and stills my heart.
There were the bigger things too.
Like the photo taken of me on the Sunday I got Confirmed. There I stood in front of the Kodak Brownie camera looking more like a reluctant blushing bride than a religious devotee, who had just received the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it was the combination of my not-so-holy Mona Lisa smile, the newly sanctified white leatherette Bible that I was clenching so fiercely to my precious budding bosom, and the unfashionable translucent off-white organza dress Ma bought from a secondhand shop just for this pious rite of passage. In the same cream-colored album, just a few pages later, there shines the real bride photo of my luminous sister-in-law in her fairytale wedding gown looking beyond radiant on the day she married my big brother.
Then there’s all those birthday party photos of me surrounded by my little friends in our fancy dresses and Sunday-best shoes. Sitting cross-legged on the grass or standing side-by-side posing, smiling and squinting into the glaring midsummer sun. Ma really knew how to throw a good party.
The silly lighthearted things were captured too. Like the night my sister decided to pin curl both my brothers’ hair. All the crazy amusing family antics. Giggling. Hoot and hollering. Laughing our guts out. All there. Perfectly preserved.
Pictures were taken everywhere. From the bathroom to the beach. Around the kitchen table and all around Lake Superior. In front of the Christmas tree and behind the back porch. Sitting on the front steps, the front lawn, the front seat of the car, in front of the TV, and in front of God.
Ma, in particular, had an abiding love for capturing the events of our lives. She had a Polaroid camera that brought her endless hours of fun and fascination. Its ability to seize a fragment of time instantaneously was a marvel to her. Holding the print in her fingers as the picture appeared within seconds. Right before her eyes. Pure magic. A modern day miracle. A wonder of wonders. Oh how she loved it so. I feel the same way about the photos I take on my iPhone. Mind blowing amazement.
As a result of all this finger-snapping photo-taking, I have a glorious visual documentation of my life. One that covers the panorama of events and emotions. From the bitter to the sweet. Snared at the intersection where joy meets sorrow. Where the profound punches the profane. The everyday and the spectacular events in the life of a regular ordinary family. Nothing special. Yet remarkable.
I have looked at these photos hundreds of times over the years. More so lately as I record the stories of my life growing up at 204.
The cracked and tattered black and white images from the early days. The washed-out color photos from the seventies. The blush-inducing eighties pics. All the nineties farewell kisses. Ma and The Old Man both died in early 2001, and with them went all the interesting, eccentric, peculiar, wonderful, joyful, melancholy, and magnificent photo ops.
There is a photo that I looked at this morning, as if for the very first time, although I had seen it countless times over the years. One of the black and whites taken by The Old Man.
My recollection of 204 was of a lovingly well-kept freshly painted white wartime house, with an enviable vegetable garden in back and beds of sunny happy Marigolds under the front window, with a beautiful Lilac bush that bloomed every June.
But this picture told a completely different story.
Staring down at the image in my hand I thought, “Holy shit. Were we really that fucking poor?” And then, shaking my head in disbelief, I thought, “The place was a run-down beat-up crummy shack.”
But as quickly as these thoughts passed through my mind, I saw this treasure of a photograph through my father’s youthful eyes.
Everything he held dear in life was in that photo. Ma, his beautiful Italian girl looking so lovely in her flowing cotton skirt of flowers. His shy baby girl with curious dark eyes just for him. The sweet gentle caramel colored mutt, with her ears perked up and dialed to his whistle. And of course, the leather baseball glove on the bottom step, ready for a game of catch.
Not so shabby.