I've been thinking about my mother a lot lately, perhaps it is because I am 43, close to the age she breathed her last breath. She was so young and beautiful when she closed her eyes and entered eternity. She left behind a husband, three sons, and three daughters. I am the youngest daugther, a mere four-years-old, a time before I remember her. My younger brother and her youngest son just emerged from babyhood to toddler hood with his third birthday just 17 days prior to her death. I think about what she must have thought when her beautiful eyes closed for the last time. There was so much she tried to pour into me like a neverending stream. I have her hands, her face, her writing, her thoughtfulness. She taught me to be precise in folding my clothes, did I know at three and four what she was really teaching me? I wonder.
I have daughters now. My youngest daughter just turned four years old. I will be 44 next May. I look at these legacies of foremothers, my six-year-old twin soul and my four-year old warrior princess, and think about my mother. My beautiful aunt, her younger sister, gave me precious photos of my queen. She was a pretty little Creole princess with her wavy brown locks and never-ending smile. She was born of a solidly middle-class black family so was afforded the priviledges of ballet, education, culture, and travel. I'm told she was a classy lady and the entire room stopped when she crossed the threshold. Her next younger sister comented on my mother's grace and perfection.
I look at the images capured in sepia and black & white and try to imagine life in 1924 when she was a new baby posing for her six-month pictures, or 1930 as a six-year-old dressed for school. I have photos of her as an 11-year-old posing like my daughters pose, she was going to ballet. I have her 16 year-old picture of her debutante dance, it was 1940 in St. Louis. Looking at images of her through young adulthood, pictures of her in 1958 posing with 4 of her then children. I imagine that kilowatt smile that lit up the room and her long, lean, Creole-French-Irish-German-African-Cherokee inherited frame gracing her sofa, casual on a Saturday, enjoying the rambuctous laughter of a house full of children.
She looked like a woman in love in 1960 as she walked along Grand Avenue, diminutive next to her beau, my 6'4" father. The gaze of her eyes made her mouth turn up in full smile. I have a picture of me on her lap in 1964, I was six months old. She was in a wheelchair because of her stubborn determination to ride a horse, the result was a broken hip. One would never know of the biting pain of a broken hip from horseback riding. Her joyous laughter was captured by Kodak. She was surrounded by all but her eldest daughter, my younger brother yet unborn. Her curly hair was coifed and grazing her shoulders, her daughter, my sister, had on the stylish glasses of the era. They were celebrating!
The next photo of her is with her hair pulled to the side in a pony tail, her frail body ensconsed in a wheelchair, surrounded by her siblings, silently mourning the death of the patriarch and giant shadow of a father, his the Creole legacy that fills our heritage. It was a hot afternoon in 1966, she was surrounded by all but one sibling, despite the saddness of their father's passing, they found a moment of joy captured forever in black & white.
My mother died in 1968 and I am on a quest to know her. Her sister has unearthed photos of her as a child, a teenager, a mother. I gaze at this face like mine and try to imagine her life. I infuse myself in the images, mining for the jewel of family, tucked away like a ruby, in a gilded box, waiting for her twin soul to knock on the door and ask the questions.
I look at pictures of my mother and I dream.