Thursday, June 30, 2011

Mom’s Photo Albums

I’ve spent the past 18 days looking through a magnifying glass at the last 48 years of my family’s life.

I bought a Groupon that will allow me to have 1,000 photos scanned and turned into digital files. I jumped at the chance, because I am the *lucky* inheritor who received all these albums when Mom died._MDS3114 (2)

Mary and I decided I would take the albums and eventually scan the photos into the computer. Um, yeah. Mom’s been dead almost seven years and I’ve scanned about 30 photos. So having someone else do it for me (and at a discount!) was a blessing…

AND a curse.

Going through my parents’ lives from 1963 to 2003 has been way more upsetting than I expected. Looking at their early years in the albums, it was cute and quaint to see ways their newlywed years mirrored my own newlywed years. Nostalgia set in for the years when babies arrived and grew, and turned into awkward adolescents who hadn’t yet grown into their teeth. (Ahem.)

But once I hit my brother’s high school years, anger began to simmer a bit until it boiled over into, well, pissed off. It makes me mad to see the letters my brother received after his appointment to West Point, and to read all the hope so many people lavished on him. Because now? I have the unwanted hindsight to know he would be dead in eight years.

And that just PLAIN SUCKS. There is no other way to say it.

I look at these photos of graduation parties, weddings, trips to West Point, football games, and holidays. I see smiles and joy. For all anyone knew, our family was perfect and idyllic. Who wouldn’t want to be a Steele? And yet, I knew the dark underbelly of a marriage that had unraveled years before. I was the last of three kids at home and had a front row seat as my parents’ marriage took its last gasping breaths before it, too, died.

In these 1990s photos, we had no idea we were hurtling toward complete destruction. I see images of my high school graduation, and – with hindsight – realize it wasn’t JUST a young girl looking into a bright future. It was the last hurdle before the finish line of my family’s marathon – a marathon that ended badly with a DNF.

This photo is what does me in.dfds

My parents are hugging my brother after his graduation from West Point. At first, I tear up because I imagine the pride my parents felt at their son’s accomplishments. Then the tears prick my eyes a little deeper as I realize that they lost him. They buried their son. How does a parent DO that?!

And then, I look at the photo and get a little glimpse into heaven. Because, to me, this is what I imagine heaven was like on the day three-fifths of my family reunited. Dad must have buried his face in his son’s cheek, while Mom’s arms were finally full again. And at the same time, Jackson welcomed them home with joy. And strength. And love. Most of all, with hope restored. Because this photo shows truth, not some pasted-on smile that comes from years of protecting the underbelly. This photo shows culmination and redemption and unconditional joy.

If I knew then what I know now, I would have walked over to them and wrapped my arms around them and never let go. And one day, I will.


Gina said...

Beautifully written, and such a gorgeous photo, especially after your thoughts on it. Tell me you are putting that one on a canvas.

Melissa said...

Beautiful post Elizabeth. Tonight as I was grocery shopping I picked up a package of cheese and checked the expiration date. The date was my dad's birthday which lead me to tear up in the middle of Schnucks. I am sure they thought I was on drugs because the store manager asked me twice if I needed any help. More than you can give me, lady! Hugs to you, my friend!

Charity said...

Awesome writing, Elizabeth! And you are right, such an emotional photograph! I love how you have that vision of them in heaven.

BTW, it looks like your mom was as organized as you are!

Also, can you email me to tell me what company it is that is scanning those photos for you? Thanks.


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