The Long Way Home


Birthday
February 10, 2013, 11:20 AM
Filed under: Vintage Photo Album | Tags: , , ,
objects she left behind

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Happy birthday to my mother, who would have been 62 today. She passed away two years ago on January 31, just shy of her 60th. I planned to post something then, but then I changed my mind, wanting that day to myself – birthdays are happier anniversaries to celebrate. Different stages in my grief process make me attached to certain snapshots of her life, and photos I’ve looked at many times, I’m seeing in new ways. Before I looked for answers; now I am learning to live without them. On the last day of her life she said, “I’m pretty damn happy with how it all turned out.” It’s comforting for me to think about – a quiet end to a complicated life.

portrait in blue

portrait in blue

1972

1972

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Happiness
May 25, 2012, 5:37 AM
Filed under: Vintage Photo Album | Tags: , , , ,

four girls

After my mother graduated high school in 1969, she got her first taste of independence: a front desk job at the Hilton downtown and a two-bedroom apartment with four other young women. She talked so much about those times in the last years of her life that she became mired in nostalgia, happiest lost in memory. Recently I found the photos in this post among her albums, and I try to match the stories she had told us over the years with the people in them: parties full of weed and wine, wearing micro-mini skirts to work, dancing late at a club called 2000 (I think) over in the North Side – eventually meeting my father at the Wooden Keg, now a Dunkin Donuts. I never had a god-like illusion of my parents that others may have had about their own; they had always been refreshingly — sometimes painfully — human.

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joy ride

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Celebration
February 10, 2012, 6:50 AM
Filed under: Vintage Photo Album | Tags: , , ,

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My mother was never one for ceremony, but birthdays were different. Birthdays — particularly *her* birthday — turned into birth months, and for weeks leading up to the event she’d drop hints on all the gifts she wanted. She always called me on my birthday, recalling details of my birth: how much I weighed, what time I was born, how difficult I was to bring into this world. We’d laugh; not much had changed. I had grown into a complicated woman, and it is only now that I accept how like my mother I am: stubborn, independent and curious, relishing solitude.  We don’t want to admit as we get older that we have become clichés — our parents. Today I’ll celebrate the day of her birth with Suzy-Qs and a can of Pepsi, thinking about how much I miss her since she’s been gone.

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Secret History
September 9, 2011, 6:40 AM
Filed under: Vintage Photo Album | Tags: , , ,

my mother and my godmother, 1971

In the immediate months after my mother died, I spent a lot of time with her through ephemera – old letters and greeting cards, scraps of paper where she jotted down her thoughts. The most painful to look through was the most recent evidence of her everyday life: doctor appointments scheduled in her day planner; a copy of The Awakening still in a Barnes and Noble bag; the new watch she got for Christmas from my aunt Lorraine, still ticking next to her glasses on the kitchen table. It is much easier for me to reach into her past, to understand her life from where it began so I can understand how it ended. And as these months go on, I’m realizing that it will be a life long process, that most of what I discover will be of my imagination, filling in the blanks because she is not here to answer my questions. And also knowing that even if she were here, that I would still be filling those blanks because she kept so many secrets. I find photos like the one above, hidden behind other photos in their frames. It makes me laugh because she is so happy and beautiful, and curious because it’s hard to imagine that only a few years after this picture was taken, she became my mother.



Broadway & Second
August 12, 2011, 7:02 AM
Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: , , , , ,

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In the middle of a crushingly busy day, I received a text from my sister. It was an image of a name carved into cement and when I looked closely at the tiny phone screen, I realized it was our mother’s name, a small bright spot of hope in an emotionally trying week. My sister had walked around one of our old neighborhoods in Coraopolis with my niece, showing her the apartment we lived in on the corner of Broadway and Second streets when she found it. I had forgotten that my mother had done this, along with her friend, who had traced “Jeff Loves Maureen 1984” in the pavement close to my mother’s name. My mother was only 33, younger than I am now, but too old to stir up this kind of mischief. The landlord had yelled at her in a mix of Italian and English, but secretly, I think he got a kick out of it because it’s still there after all this time. A few nights ago, I had to take a friend out to the airport, so I drove by beforehand to see it for myself. The house looks mostly the same, brown trim replacing the green, and the new tenants added a porch swing. The cottage next to it is gone, the one where we imagined a witch lived. Our Sicilian neighbor’s house is abandoned, but I remember her bent in black dress and stockings, a scarf tied under her chin, her once-lush garden overgrown with knee-high grass and caged in a chain-link fence. The streets feel smaller and broken. I had lived for so many years in memory, that I had forgotten this was a real place, somewhere I used to call home.

where the witch once lived

a current resident who talked with us about the old neighborhood

the kitten that followed us everywhere



Beautiful
July 17, 2011, 9:57 AM
Filed under: Vintage Photo Album | Tags: , ,

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The name Linda in its Germanic roots means, soft, tender, but my mother preferred the Spanish version, beautiful. We were often reminded of her beauty when men stopped to chat with her while on a  mundane trip to the  grocery store, or friends of ours — your mother, she’s so young-looking. I was proud and confused by my mother’s beauty because for all the attention she received, she was never satisfied with the way she looked. She was always searching, for something, but I never knew what. I go back to before I was born, I root through images. I see a young woman who took ceramic classes, writing workshops, drawing lessons. I see trips to the beach and beautiful dresses that I wish she had saved for me. I knew an older woman who lived deep in the past, wondering what she’d be when she grew up.

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Lost and Found
February 21, 2011, 9:48 AM
Filed under: Vintage Photo Album | Tags: , , ,

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There aren’t going to be any fuzzy moments around the fire as my sister and I pour through my mother’s photo albums exchanging memories. It’s going to look more like the two of us sitting at my sister’s kitchen table, elbow-deep in mounds of photos tossed into boxes. Giant U-Haul boxes. After the 70s, it looks as if my mother gave up assembling the images of our lives into any kind of order. Her attachment to these photos has caused a few family arguments over the years, which in retrospect makes me laugh. My stepmother once brought an old photo album of my dad’s to my nephew’s birthday, and when my mother saw it, she grabbed it from my hands and ran out of the house with it to lock in her car. My uncle found his high school yearbook missing two pages; my mother had torn them out  for her albums. In cleaning her cedar chest, Jeff found stacks of them ‘like bricks of gold’ hidden underneath a pile of quilts. During the week that she died, my sister spent hours looking for that giant U-Haul box of photos, only to discover it a few weeks later in the office closet, bound in duct tape, “memories” scrawled across the top. In that box, I found a tiny blue leather photo album filled with photo booth pictures. There are no dates, but I’m guessing by her hair styles that they are from 1970-71. It was a challenge to re-assemble them in chronological order, and so  I gave up.  Looking through the photos, I wonder why, if they were so important to her, she treated them so poorly, why she wouldn’t share them with us, why she hid them away from the world. She may not have realized that she left me the gift of piecing together the fragments of her life through my own stories.

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