Saturday, August 20, 2011
Who Are You?
She was the mother of my mothers half sister. The woman my mother was named for in a moment of kindness. My grandmothers generosity to her young stepdaughter still astounds me.
The first time I went to upstate New York, in my twenties, I called my mom and told her how beautiful I thought it was. She said that she knew. Her sister used to take her camping. She took her canoeing. My mom camping? Paddling a canoe? She never told me this before. I remember being told that after my grandparents married they moved to New York to be with the children my grandfather had left behind. My mother lived in Brooklyn for several years before they moved back here. After the older boy and girl were well grown. I look out for the lake as my husband and I travel. I feel excited as we approach, like I am visiting a well loved and missed location. As we pass the lakes I imagine my mom for a moment. A tall and skinny girl of ten, top heavy with thick hair. Her grown sister paddling them along the water free and happy. My mom said her half sister seemed happy there. She wasn't usually happy. She was an alcoholic like their father. She died young, like her mother. My mom always told me I look a lot like her..
I imagined her mother, my grandfathers first wife, as a delicate invalid. She died so young she must have had a congenital problem of some sort, I thought. I saw her in floaty lace shifts drifting through her day. Touching her daughters head gently before collapsing to her bed in the afternoon for a rest.
My half cousin sat in my mothers house with a stack of photo's. Old black and whites. My mom as a young woman. My grandmother. Many pictures of people I never met, my grandfather, her mother and father and then last, a tall young woman. It is an outdoor scene in soft tones of varying grays. From the nineteen twenties. Her hair is dark and thick. Cut in a chin length bob full with rich waves. She is wearing a mans shirt and pants! The pants legs shoved into heavy boots. One leg is slightly raised, bent at the knee and a shotgun stock rests against her hip. The double barrel pointing skyward casually in her grip. Her torso is bisected by a side slung shell belt, shoulder to waist, fully loaded. She faces the camera dead straight her expression forthright with a hint of challenge. Just the faintest touch of humor sparks at the corners of her eyes and mouth. She looks strong and healthy and jubilant. Fiery. I feel an instant tug of recognition. The kind that draws you to others and makes you wish to claim them.
Who is this wonderful woman? This strong rebellious nature in our past?
"This", says my half cousin, " is my grandmother, my mothers mom."
My grandfathers first wife.
My heart sinks. She isn't related to me at all.
I feel like something was snatched away from me.
I wish she were mine.
My parents weren't storytellers. My dad remained close mouthed. Facts would drop out of my mother like accidents. Slips of paper snatched by wind out of a notebook. I think I was probably nine when she said, "I learned to roller skate when I was living in New York with my sister D. My brother H bought them for me for Christmas."
"When you were living where? With WHO?
My family history is like a filing cabinet full of Missing Persons Reports.
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