Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Photo Albums

I’m in the Fort Lauderdale airport (free wireless) awaiting for my American Airlines flight which turns out to be on time and not canceled. I’m ecstatic about that because when the trip is over I want to get home asap.

I was down here to see my mom, do her income taxes, and check on how things are going. Like many middle aged children, I’ve got one parent in the grave and the other not faring very well. My mom is well down the dementia path. She spends a good amount of time sleeping. Yesterday, in the middle of one of her naps, she started to scream violently, absolutely terrified. I can only guess it was a painful memory from her childhood. She grew up in Nazi Germany; a Jew who got out in time. Her parents did not. I have no way of knowing whether those are the thoughts that torment her. But on a previous visit I witnessed more or less the same thing where she spoke in German during the bad dream. My mom was multi-lingual. Now she doesn’t even have one language.

That afternoon, I spent some time going through family photo albums. In the mid nineties, I had gotten my dad a low end Mac with a color printer and one of the things he did was use it for pictures (he was a photography buff of sorts, not skilled, but with interest in making the captures) and then enlarge them and print. There’s quite a bit of my kids when they were very young and my siblings and their families. This was using the computer to satisfy a habit formed well earlier in life. We had a large collection of photo albums with black and white photos, mostly from the 50’s and 60’s but some from the 40’s as well. My dad also had taken a ton of slides that I believe are lost forever and we had 8 mm film that we converted to VHS, but I’m no longer sure where that is.

I was fascinated looking through the pictures. My mother was a remarkable woman fifty years ago. My sister was the star in many of these pictures. She’s the first born. And I could see myself and my brother wearing Best & Co. clothing that I remember made us itch because it was wool. There were also photos of many family friends and relatives, some from abroad. I recognized a few and could recall stories of what was happening when those pictures were taken. But there were other photos where I didn’t know who that was. Perhaps my siblings will know. Otherwise the memories are likely lost forever. Does it matter if I pass these memories along to my children?

My mother wrote an autobiography which my father edited extensively to eliminate some of the redundancy. I had copies made yesterday and will see if my children are interested in reading it. I read an earlier version some time ago. My impression was that it was historical fiction, at least the early years, because the truth was too painful. It occurred to me, however, that it may actually be how my mother came to know things, spinning a view of the world that others could not recount, a learning disability before anyone knew the term.

I suppose this happens in many families. The lineage and history gets forgotten. Perhaps it’s better to forget, but if so, why are those pictures so fascinating to see?

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