I hope you’re all enjoying lovely, balmy spring weather; here in Maine, the temps have been slow to rise… Anyhoo, here is my response to last week’s prompt. Enjoy–and then go write something!
Recall a photograph from your life and describe it in a way that suggests (but doesn’t specifically name) why it matters. (Remember the creative writer’s adage, “Show, don’t tell.”) Describe what happened either just before or just after the photo was taken.
The photo is curled at the edges, the colors a bit muted with age: My mother–her long black hair forever lifted on a light breeze, sun glinting off her John Lennon glasses–has her arms around my sister and me, each of us in matching sundresses, and our own long brown hair tied back with a yarn-style ribbon–popular back in the mid-seventies. My brother, three years old and four years younger than me, stands in front of us, his pudgy hands forming goggles around his blue eyes.
A beautiful, blue-skied-sun-drenched day, captured on 35mm film–most probably Labor Day; hard to know even with a date auto-printed on the back, because my parents weren’t very quick to get film developed. The finished roll might sit in its black plastic canister with the grey top (remember those?) in the messy drawer beneath the phone for months before it finally made it to the little Photomat booth in town.
While the exact date of the photo is up for debate, the location is not–above our heads, profiled crisply against the azure blue of the (September?) sky, is the “Old Man of the Mountains” rock formation, which, until (relatively) recently, could be found in the Franconia Notch area of New Hampshire. If you’ve ever been to New Hampshire, you know that this icon is featured on every state highway sign, on license plates, the state quarter…he’s everywhere. And while the rocks that made up his craggy profile finally collapsed off of the cliff face in 2003, I have him preserved for all time in this precious photograph.
Precious–but not because of the lost landmark.
My mother–probably 28 or 29 in the picture, petite and slender–is wearing cutoff denim shorts, and a fitted white thermal shirt. And, unbeknownst to her at the time (I’m fairly positive of this), she was newly pregnant with my youngest sister. I did the math. Once I realized this fact (not until fairly recently), I began looking at that picture with new eyes, as I would do with any of the precious few photographs of my mother.
Just three years after we posed for that photo, my mother contracted spinal meningitis, and was gone within three days–leaving my father, a barber by trade, with four children under the age of eleven to raise on his own. I look at that picture now and I see four carefree, smiling faces–my siblings and I each with that intangible-yet-undeniable air of children that are sure of their place in the world, that things will always be as they were at that moment: happy, safe, secure. And as I gaze at those faces, framed by that painfully clear blue sky, I realize how so very fragile, tenuous, and utterly out of our hands our fates can be.
I have experienced much joy and happiness in my life–but I am sure I have never since felt exactly the same as I did in that picture, under the protective arm of my mother.
You can check out the previous four prompts and my responses below if you are so inclined: