Even though my relationship with my Mother has often been, er, strained...I always enjoyed hearing stories about her childhood. Those stories were a rare treat. She didn't speak of her formative years very often. What I remember most during those infrequent tales of her fabled past, was my mother uttering the phrase "I was a homely child" on many occasions. I always had to take her at her word because; whereas my Mother and I are pack-rats in the extreme, my grandmother was not.
At every opportunity, Grandma would purge her home of any and all clutter. This included old photos, and (after my mother left home at 17) all of her cherished childhood mementos - scrap books, year books, school work...anything that my Mom neglected to take with her was tossed out without her permission. Grandma's excuse? "If you didn't take it with you, I assumed you didn't want it anymore."
So for this reason, I had never seen a photograph of my mother as a child. I am sure my grandmother kept a few photos. She was a kind and loving woman and I find it hard to believe that she would throw away EVERYTHING; but I tell you, every time I went to visit her at her apartment in later years she tried to give away anything and everything to me that she thought I might want. Grandma really hated clutter. Still, I had never seen any photos of my Mother prior to, say, 1964.
When I was home over Thanksgiving, I went on a mission to find some old photographs of myself. My mother never throws ANYTHING away, so I knew the ones I wanted were in my parent's house somewhere. The problem is, when you don't throw away ANYTHING, that means you must go through EVERYTHING to find what you want. I spent hours looking through old dresser drawers and closets. By the time I sat on my old canopy bed in my not so old bedroom (I had only spent about 2 years of my life in that room in the last house my parents purchased and finally settled into after 18 years of roaming), I had amassed quite a large pile of yellow Kodak envelopes full of photo prints.
You see, in addition to being a pack-rat, my Mother is also very unorganized. Other than her wedding album, I don't think she has ever taken the time to sort a single photograph into an album of any kind. I had my work cut out for me.
After a couple more hours of flipping through envelop after envelop of photos from my childhood (and finding a few of those elusive pics I was looking for) I came across a white envelope with a rubber band around it. It stood out like a sore thumb against the sea of Kodak yellow. I was stunned and elated to discover a letter from my great-aunt which spoke about cleaning out the home of another great-aunt after she had passed away and enclosed was a BUNCH of little black and white photographs. Apparently, my Grandmother had been sending great-aunt Eleanor batches of photos for years during her frequent clean-out/purge sessions. Eleanor had kept every photo. Many of them were of my Mother when she was a little girl.
There she was, in grainy black and white. The little photos looked like they had been taken with one of those old time brownie cameras. The prints were so small and cute. And you know what? My mother was NOT a homely child. She was adorable! Which begs the question...what happened? Why did she grow up with such a low self-opinion? I may never know the answer (but you KNOW I am going to ask...one of these days).
My little photo expedition was NOT a sanctioned adventure and I knew at any moment my Mother would come up stairs and discover me sitting on my old bed with stacks of photo gold around me. She seems to have some deep seated fear of someone (namely me or my brother) taking some treasured piece of our past from one of her never opened dusty old drawers. Like she would ever notice. You know what? She is right to fear. I quickly took the photos of me that I had been looking for and hid them inside a book I was reading. I scanned the collection of old black and white photos and took my favorites, also stashing them inside my book.
I had just set my book back on the night stand, when the creaky step on the stairway gave me warning that my mother was coming. I painted on an innocent grin as I saw the look of panic on her face.
"What are you doing?!"
Oh, nothing really. I was just trying to find photos of me in my Junior and Senior prom dresses.
I just wanted to show them to some friends of mine.
"Oh. Well...don't take the copies that I have. If you find them, I can have prints made for you."
Um, ok Mom. Thanks.
She sat down with me on the bed and began looking through some of the envelopes. She was sucked down memory lane, just as I had been, and we talked about vacations past and holidays spent in houses both far and near. She came across the white envelope, opened it, (I held my breath) and told me about how her Aunt had saved these old photos for years and how happy she was to have them. They are the only photos left, that she is aware of, of her old house that she grew up in and of her as a child. Whew. She didn't notice the missing ones.
Don't worry. I am going to return them. Now that I have them scanned. Curious? Would you like to see my Mommy as a very little girl? Here she is:
Now I ask you...is that a face only a mother could love? No! I didn't think so either. My mom also used to insist that she was fat as a child. Bah! Her face was charmingly full, but she was no fatty. If you want to see the rest of the photos I swiped, click on the photo of young Carol above to view my Shutterfly album. I really did strike Kodak gold that day.