Digging in her basement earlier this week, my mother discovered a shoebox full of old family photographs.
When I say old, I mean of the era between roughly 12 and six years before I was born, muted color pictures from the late 1960s and early 1970s, with a few black-and-white outliers from earlier decades.
Here are descriptions of a few favorites:
? My father’s mother and father in spring sunshine, sometime in the early 1970s. My grandmother at an angle of repose in which I never saw her in life, feet up in an aluminum frame and woven nylon chaise lounge. My grandfather — whom I never knew — seated in a lawn chair wearing a golden windbreaker and polished cowboy boots. A pair of macram? owls hang from a wooden slat fence behind them.
? My mother and her brothers, ca. 1969. My Uncle Mike is shirtless. He holds the family dog. My Uncle Tim stands at rigid attention in thick-framed glasses. My mother looks so cool.
? My father is shirtless — this seems to be a theme in the family photos, everyone so lithe and tan in another America — his curly hair explodes in corkscrewing strands. He has a pencil in his massive farmboy’s hand. He smiles at the camera, but he is clearly hard at work on his law books.
? My mother’s mother and her mother-in-law, Pensacola, Fla., early 1945. My grandfather is probably taking the photograph. He would still be in a cast.
? My mother and father, in an embrace, probably about a year or two before they were married. They sit on my grandmother’s old green davenport. My mother is on my father’s lap.
Everyone has this sensation when they look at old pictures of parents and grandparents and those strangers — Mom and Dad had friends?
That there was life before we came along seems such an aberrant shock.
In his poem entitled “Parents,” William Meredith writes in part about this photographic, past-gazing phenomenon: “What it must be like to be an angel/or a squirrel, we can imagine sooner.”
But what comfort these photos give me. I can remember when such things were a source of fun, when I was 16. But at 34, they give me a strange, fascinating confidence to go forward.