During my last visit South, my dad gave me a box of slides, snap-shots of me as an infant and toddler. A treasure trove.  Just had them developed last week. It was a shock to see images of myself, and of my father, that I had never seen before. He was so young! younger then than my daughter is now. And I was so cute.  It amazes me to stare into the dark brown eyes of this happy little child, to see myself at play in a garden (how little has changed!), to see my infant self in a sweet little kimono, my fists curled tightly as if still womb-bound.

There was one of my grandparents in Paris, 1956, that is pure history. What must that trip have been like? Did my grandmother buy that stunning grey leather coat  on Avenue Foch?  My grandfather is dressed in a suit and tie, a black beret perched stylishly on his head.  I can just imagine the exchange between my ebullient grandfather, and a street vendor who, given that World War II still pulsed in the collective consciousness, likely greeted these American  tourists with great enthusiasm and perhaps even gratitude.

There is one of me sitting in my father’s lap, my Great-grandfather Max smiling at me in profile. Tales of his eccentricities are legion. In this one frame however, he is merely another Jewish grandpa, spending time with a  beloved new life. In another my grandmother is holding me aloft, nails perfectly manicured in her trademark color: Revlon’s Cherries in the Snow.

The moment I saw the crib, memory shot like an arrow from childhood: my bookcase! It had been painted with rosy-cheeked apples each one crowned with dark green leaves.  Mother must have painted it to match the crib. She was forever creative like that.

Today our kids pretty much grow up with their younger selves firmly implanted in their memories.  Families make ritual of watching home videos; there is no escaping photographs that climb staircase walls, populate computer screens, peer from elegant frames in every corner of our homes.  The children of this generation are not strangers to their younger selves. Emma and Elliot have memorized some of the dialogue of our videos; they know the cadences and have their laughter ready for scenes they know will soon appear.

But for the rest of us, how much connection do we have with the little seedling of a person we once were, free of the story life would soon begin writing upon us? I am mesmerized by these photographs, by that chubby-cheeked Asian-looking toddler.  Such happiness in her face and love in her eyes for the person behind the camera.

What would I say to this little one, knowing what lay ahead for her? Would I take her pudgy hand in mine, kiss her palm and detail all that was to come? Or would I just pick her up from her apple orchard crib and say, “Hi, baby, everything’s going to be OK.  You’re gonna have some really fierce ouchies along the way and some really good times, too. But until then, just enjoy the sun on your arms and the way those blades of grass bounce back after you pat them down. Drink in the love that’s being given to you. One day you’ll pass it along.”

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10 thoughts on “Slides

  1. Judi A.

    What an absolute treasure to have these photos and all the memories of loved ones they bring. You were a cute little one – with lots of hair!
    A few years after my mother died, my father remarried a woman that didn’t want anything to do with his children. After a few years, my brother-in-law was given a full garbage bag to dispose of. When he looked inside, he discovered all the family pictures had been torn in shreds (by hand!) into tiny pieces. My sister was able to piece together a couple for each of us, but consequently the pictures of my childhood are no longer available. So sad that they are gone forever, but also sad that anyone could have such ugly feelings.

  2. Debra

    Oh, what a devastation, Judi! How terrible. Such capacity for cruelty is heartbreaking. As if destroying photographs could destroy your being and/or your father’s relationship to you all.

  3. Kay Osborn

    What a cutie you were (and still are!) with a beautiful head full of hair!! From what I can tell, the small picture of your dad reminds me of Elliott. What a beautiful gift from your dad – such pictures sure bring lots of memories and wonderment about our early years, don’t they!! Kay

  4. Debra

    Hi Kay,
    Do you remember how Emma had just as much hair as a newborn? SOOO many people have commented on a resemblance between Dick and Elliot. Funny those genes….

  5. Helene

    What a warm and poignant essay. Spot on about kids nowdays growing up with themselves every step of the way. I can’t wait to see all the photos.

  6. cindylaferle

    Very sweet photos, Debra! It is a gift to have them. Am going through old photos of my mom now, writing about them, trying to remember the person she was. Thank goodness for photos.

  7. Ray

    Debra, I cannot believe that photo of your dad as such a young man! You were just as cute as a baby as you were a teenager and now an adult. Life did turn out pretty well in the one that you found with Martin, Elliot and Emma. Keep the love!

  8. Debra

    I know, Ray, isn’t it a riot what he looked like at twenty-something. I give thanks daily for life’s blessings. We’ve all come a long way.

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