I’m looking at a picture of my parents. My father in a plaid shirt and turtleneck, standing arms across his chest, smiling. My mother sitting, outside somewhere, the green of grass for background. Legs crossed ladylike, cigarette in hand. She is smiling too.
I realize with a start that they are my age… I am their age… The age they were in that picture, I am now.
The picture has been on that shelf for some time. I have lived in this house over thirty years, though it doesn’t seem possible. When I put the photos in their double brass frame, I was much younger. My parents may still have even been alive. Now it comes around. They are gone, I am old. I will be following soon.
Okay, maybe not that soon. I’m healthy, reasonably. I’m not staring down the jaws of death or any such. All is well, in fact. No lost abilities, yet. But I can read the writing on the wall. It’s right there in the photos: my parents, happy and enjoying life one day, gone the next.
There is something else I read in that picture though. I look closer, at the smiles, the twinkling eyes. They’re not hiding away, dreading what will inevitably come. Live life now, they say in those captured images.
There are two other photos on the shelf. I didn’t intentionally group them, more like set them in a spot where they fit. But now as I look, the fit is more apt than mere spacing. The fit is perfect.
One is a photo I’ve always loved, taken by my father when we were at the beach. I was in my twenties, long hair blowing against the perfect blue sea. My son, age three, sits in my lap, all blonde hair, soft skin, and possibilities. We are holding a beach ball.
I remember the time, sad now that I hadn’t been more mindful, too busy in my own life and friends. Still, for that moment, we were a happy family. I have a picture to prove it.
The third photo, also taken by my father, is of my mother, my grandmother, and me. It was shot from behind as we walked hand in hand in Laurelhurst Park. The year was 1953, which would put my mother at forty-two and my grandmother in her sixties.
In spite of the white hair which makes her look older, I am currently the age my grandmother was then. I know what happened after that picture. I know about the gradual debilitation, the nursing home, the death. She, on the other hand, walks with her family through a sunlit park, blissfully ignorant. She is looking at me, the tiny girl with her whole life ahead of her. I feel sad and sorry, having dashed her hopes with my wandering ways.
But maybe she would have liked me anyway.