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.”