Friday, May 12, 2006
I have a treasure. Actually, I have many. But this particular one is a tangible, hold-in-my-hand keepsake; a bit of history...a memento of the past. My mother's past.
Inside a worn and faded scrapbook lies pictures...drawings by my mother. On the inside of the embossed cover is the date, November 9, 1943 - the last weeks of Mother's 16th year. The pages, now yellowed, are crisp in my hands and hold priceless illustrations of my grandparents, aunts and uncles; my ancestory in its youth.
My mother grew up in Fredonia, KS...the second daughter and third child in a family of nine children. I believe that during the time of these drawings her beloved brother, "Bud" was serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps, flying across South America, Africa, Agra and India so he was not featured in her pictures. And her baby sister was yet to be born.
Looking at these illustrations transports me to another world: a time before I knew. Here my maternal relatives are children and teenagers, not the middle-aged adults that I first came to know; not the loved ones of present day, or those who have passed on. Their sweet faces and daily life is captured on the pages of my mother's memory. I picture her as she sat on the floor, sketching her siblings much as she sketched my brothers, sisters and me when we were growing up.
Her pictures tell a story of their life together, of little sisters playing marbles on the floor or a Chopsticks duet, her brother relaxing after his paper route and adolescents gathered around the radio, doing stitchery or practicing the latest style in hair of the fashionable 40's.
Mother absolutely adored her brothers and sisters and always loved spending time with the little ones. Being on the older end of the sibling spectrum, one might think she would have tired of them. But being a nurturer was her calling and when she speaks of this time, it is always with the greatest affection.
My grandparents, too, were a great source of strength and love in Mom's life. I have no recollection of my grandfather who passed away when I was very young, but see him through her eyes as a lovely man I wish I'd come to know. My grandmother is remembered as a woman of great strength, optimism and wit. How fortunate to have this peek into their life; the life that Mother knew.
Little did she know, in 1943-44, that the days of the radio, wood stove and crank telephone would be replaced with our modern technology; a world that now revolves faster and speaks louder. It was life as they knew it yet now looking back, it was so extraordinary in its own simplicity.
In the days of digital cameras and of the instantaneous, a fantastic picture is fairly commonplace. We capture the memory on small screens and printed photo paper, and how amazing it is in its clarity and brilliance.
But these illustrations sketched some 60 years ago hold a place of their own. They are not just a representation of what life was, but my mother's interpretation of the moment...her individualized memory.
I think of Mom as a young woman. At the time of these drawings she didn't know my dad yet. She didn't know that she would go on to have six children of her own and twelve grandchildren, all who completely adore her. She passed her love of art down to us all and we continue her legacy in our own unique ways.
These drawings, these people: Charles, Verna, Bud, Betty, Bonnie June, Georgie, Doug, Shirley, Dorothy, Thenie, Nancy... they are part of my life, my history. Thank you for taking me back. How humbling to meet you all...