Monday, October 19, 2009


What I didn’t know then was how difficult life can get. When I hear giggling girls on an afternoon visit to the library, I too remember a time when everything was a giggle. Nothing seemed all that serious to me and I wondered what was wrong with the adults. Life just was; looking back there seemed to be more sun light, more joy. I want to tell the girls to hold onto the laughter, pack some in a jar with a tight lid, for times when they’re older.
When sorting out my dad’s belongings, I came across a box of old photos. The subjects looking back out of their rectangles of frozen time were from family gatherings, friend’s get-togethers, school pictures and places we’d vacationed at as a family. Special times captured forever in their instant, better than one’s own mental recall, and able to kindle the emotions anew.
Carefree, living in the now, the occupants captured in the miniature time capsules saw only bright futures ahead. Loose plans would jell up when needed. Grown-up responsibilities were far off on the horizon. All that was important and necessary was to enjoy being with cousins and friends. Sharing these good times is what I remember most clearly, especially summer days in the warm sun with the light sparkling off the water at Crystal Lake. Floating in inner tubes with our legs connected to someone else’s tube, we’d bob along like a row of ducklings towed by the surrogate mother, a wooden rowboat full of the bigger cousins. The underwater path was worn through the lake grass from diving one after another off the same spot on the dock. The cannonball contests which were usually won by my cousin Ray who was then and still is chunky.
In high school, we hung out in a group, few of us paired off for individual dates. We had nicknames for each other, not bad or hurtful names that you’d never outgrow. Endearment’s to show you cared were based on variations of last names. Miff, Mickey or Smitty were a few. The light in our eyes seems different in the old photographs. A trick of the camera and film produced more sparkle or were the eyes not yet dulled by major disappointments, hurts or setbacks. Eyes full of life expecting the best in each situation that would be encountered.
Life was simpler then or just remembered that way. What I didn’t know then was how complex life can get. The surface doesn’t always reflect the truth. That there are a million shades of black and white. Our memories have a way of softening the hard times by surrounding them in diffused light to make them more palatable and safe to recall.
Dark days don’t spring to mind as easily, but there were some in my youth. Painful times were interspaced with the good. It takes loads of them over the years, varying in size and intensity, to dull the eyes and the senses. I had a brother whose reputation preceded me through school. “Oh, you’re Albert’s sister.” A trial before a crime this conviction greeted me each year. In high school, a crush so intense that walking past “him” in the hall was unbearable without the support of friends. No date for the Junior Prom, a rite of passage missed. Simultaneous splitting up of the cousins and the school group of friends at graduation, we knew that it would never be the same as we went our individual ways. These were just a start of what was to come.
The good and bad accumulate to make us who we are. Perspective changes us as we age but underneath it all, under all the layers of protective covering we’ve installed to pad our journey, our eyes are still bright. The laughter may not be as cascading as childhood giggles that once started are like a slow motion avalanche taking everything in its path into the chorus. When sifting through boxes of old photographs or poring over neglected family albums, we reaffirm who we are and from whence we came. Our tenuous hold on life can be reviewed and processed to assure our continuity.
What I didn’t know then was that wisdom gained gives insight into the nuances of daily trials and tribulations which then enables us to live each day fully. Strength and encouragement come from mentors, family or a network of friends, as each phase of the journey begins and ends. Full circle... the dance continues filled with laughter and tears, joys and sorrows, ups and downs with a million shades of black and white until completion.

EMM 5/11/98

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