Thursday, December 26, 2013

and merry christmas to all

my husband turned the tree off about an hour ago and headed to bed, but i can't quite get there. the house is a wreck, Christmas paper strewn everywichway, presents crowding the corners of the living room. the garland that drapes the banister is losing needles, and remnants of last night's post-church dinner party still linger on the kitchen counter. the Christmas plates and glasses sit on the dining room sideboard waiting to be put away until next year. but i am not quite ready.

it was a good day, a heart-wrenching day, a happy day, a poignant one. all wrapped up together like the best present you've ever gotten. and the worst one, too. my father was not here. and my mother was here alone.

 but it was a good day, too, because it was a day (or two, exactly) that we got to spend with the very people who have taken this year on with us and helped us feel our way out.

i am happy to report that my mother, who was wheelchair bound in April, has walked up and down the stairs of my house in the past two days slowly, but without incident. this is amazing in and of itself. she has moved her home and her life to a new town and though she is not quite happy, at least she is trying. my mother, as my father told me on the eve of their 60th anniversary, is tough. 

yes, when the need presents itself, she is tough. and aren't we blessed by that. but she is fragile, too, and we need to be mindful of that. 

she always worries about Christmas. what to give everybody that is not too extravagant but means something to each member of the FAM. This year she may have topped herself: a 35-minute video of slides my father took when we were children.

readers of this blog know i am the third child, and the photographs of the tiny me are few, but hidden within this treasure is are jewels: shots of my parents in the hospital the day after i was born, and of me, in the nursery bassinet — photos i had never seen until yesterday. other slides mark years at Easter and Christmas with our grandparents. there are dogs. a cat. a rabbit. a tree fallen on the house. trips to see my grandmother in florida. my mother and her hats. my grandfather's garden. my grandmother's sunday table. again, most of them never seen before.

kids today don't know about slides. they think they are something you slip down on your way to someplace else, a zip, and onto the rest of your day. when i was a kids we buffed our slides with wax paper, just so they could slip us more quickly into the next run.

but i want these particular slides to stick to me as if i were trying to slide on wet paper. to stop me in my tracks, at least for a little while, so i can take my childhood in again, through my father's eyes.

my brother stands with my dad on my grandmother's jacksonville, florida front porch. i have no idea who took the picture, because my mother stands in the background in her favorite hat, her hand so close to her heart that i can feel what she is thinking. we didn't visit florida very much, but here we are at her mother's home, and she is happy, watching her husband and son stand in the place where she grew up. i know that feeling well. she is beautiful.

i wish i could show you these pictures now, so you can see, but it's the fact of them that matters, not the pictures themselves. you have your own pictures just like them. you have all stood on that front porch, grinning for the camera on days when maybe you didn't feel like it, but 50 years later, on a random Christmas morning when you see yourself there, you are glad you stood and smiled. it means something. and it is important. 

i came across a letter recently that my father wrote me when i was about to graduate from college. i won't belabor you with the details, but he closed it with an important point: the importance of history is that people lived it every single day. lived it. real people, doing regular things, some whose regular things ended up just in regular things, but some of those regular things ended up changing the world. and though we can't be really know about life after death, we can be assured that one day, we will be someone's ancestor. and that matters to those who come after us. 

we are more than Kodachrome captured on a random afternoon in the middle of a sweltering august day in the 1960s. or 70s. or 90s or now teens. we are built of story. and the pictures matter. because behind the pictures is where the story lies.

take a look at your old Christmas pictures, and tell your family the story of that day. of all those days.

a gift. to all.


 writemuch.blogspot is the original work of author susan byrum rountree. all written work and photography is copyright protected and can only be used with written permission of the author.