|Falling photos of the past. dee|
The photographs spill out of the envelope, tumbling to the floor in a cascade of black and white faces, frozen stills from the past. I meant simply to tidy the bookshelves in the guest room where Marcus and his wife, Ingrid stayed recently. I replaced the book, The Old Man and the Sea, and in doing so, dislodged this manilla envelope. I stoop to pick up the photos, when one demands my attention. I sit down abruptly on the corner of the full-sized bed. It squeaks as it absorbs my weight. I pinch the edge of the photo.
Mostly, I am amazed by what I have willed myself to forget. Now that I am in my sixties, and Declan, my only surviving child, is grown and has a family of his own, I have reinvented myself. I have become an independent-minded potter who volunteers at the hospital and plays Mahjong on Wednesdays nights. My friends call me Stella, though my given name in Elizabeth. Go figure. My husband, Claremont, is involved at the Portuguese American Club. He is the book-keeper as well as an active member. He chases down donations and dues and contributions from people who use the facility for receptions and parties. Claremont is one of the MV Hospital administrators; his days are full of helping people figure out how to pay for their medical care. He is paid reasonably well and he has seniority that comes with four weeks of vacation. If I mention retirement, he laughs at me. He says he doesn’t have time for it. The two of us have established a good balance.
The picture I am holding harkens back to another age, another era. It shows a time before we were Stella and Claremont. I was the daughter of a Polish farmer and his wife. My father farmed potatoes in Hadley, Ma. On about ten acres of our own, and fifteen that he leased, my father perfected the art of growing potatoes in Hadley’s silty soil. He was one of the first farmers to install an irrigation system using water from the Connecticut River to irrigate his acres of potato fields. My mother was the true monarch of he Plodnyk Potato dynasty. Silva Plodnyk made the decisions about how to raise my five brothers and sisters and me. She did not believe in time for recreation. We were meant to work, or rest in order to work. Whether is was farmwork or schoolwork, the Plodnyks were known as hardworkers. The black and white photo is shot on our farm by the front gate. I am standing on one side, Marshall Dickinson is standing on the other. We are at least three feet apart, but even in the photo, the fifty-year old photo, I can feel the connection that existed between us. I study it trying to discern what gives away our passion. Was it how our eyes looked directly into each other’s eyes? Was it the slight leaning of my upper torso toward his? Was it the way both of our mouths were soft and gently pursed? I see it finally. Our hands are just inches apart as we both grasp the fence rail. We are standing on opposite sides of the fence and our hands are magnetically drawn to one another’s. The familiar sorrow settles over me. In the old days, they called this melancholy. I wonder what might have been. What if my mother had let me go to Wellesley on the scholarship I won? What if Marshall hadn’t gone to Harvard? Marshall and I never talked about our emotion-laden past. The only evidence that exists - as far as I know - is this one photograph. We did not want to clutter the future with memories of our past, so we cut them out completely. Now that Marshall is gone, I often wonder if that was the right thing to do. I see so much of Marshall in Julia. It astonishes me at times to see the daughter of the man I loved fill her father’s shoes so aptly. I bless the twist of fate that brought our families together. Marshall and I have grandchildren together. The irony of such a thing is something of a secret joy to me. Marshall, Julian and Sarah are wonderful children; Declan and Julia are doing an outstanding job raising them.
I scoop up the photos and slip them back into the envelope. Glancing around the room, I wonder what on earth to do with the evidence of my past. I take two steps, bend at the waist, and life the corner of the mattress. I slip the envelope between the mattress and the box spring. It is unlikely anyone but I will flip the mattress. I will be in the earth the day that such a thing happens. The photos are safe for the time being.