External Photo Clues:
Written in Pencil:
Kathryn Jean Sweed
Ellwood Park Amarillo Tex.
Summer July 1952
My mother didn’t die. She just left for no reason at all. I don’t remember any difference between the day she left and the day before. My parents hadn’t argued. She didn’t pack a single bag. She didn’t even treat me or Lizzy Beth extra special like she should have done. Lizzy Beth was riding on my back. I could feel her drool dripping into my hair. She was laughing hysterically as I neighed and whinnied and crawled around on my knees. Lizzy Beth had just turned two. I was twelve. The last thing my mother said to us was, “I’m going out to get my hair curled, Sawyer. Y’all be good.”
That was it. My mother just walked out of the house without us. She took her purse. She didn’t leave a note. She just didn’t come back home again. That evening when my dad got back from the Pantex Plant he changed out of his work clothes. He’d drank two Budweiser beers and listened to two radio programs before he noticed she was not around. In fact, it wasn’t until I was changing Lizzy in the middle of the family room that he asked about her. “What’s your mother made for dinner?”
Lizzy Beth took that second of me being distracted and wriggled free from her diaper. I chased her all over the place, while trying at the same time to explain that I hadn’t seen my mother for hours. “She went to get her hair curled she said. But she ain’t back yet. I made sandwiches for my and Lizzy. You want one?” I asked.
He called her best friends, he called her parents, but he never called the police. I think maybe he knew why she’d gone, or maybe he just didn’t care. I don’t know why he never called the police. We just went on living without her. His sisters came over to do what my mom used to: cook, clean, and take care of Lizzy Beth.
Being nearly thirteen-years-old I didn’t really need a babysitter. My aunts had taught me a lot so I could help out while my mother was gone. My Aint Charlotte taught me how to cook without burning up every pot in the house. I knew how to help Lizzy Beth on and off the toilet. I read to her every night before I put her to bed. I even brushed the tangles out her hair in the mornings. I was learning how to sew on a button. I could make the best grilled cheese and bacon sandwiches in the world. I don’t know what else I could have done to prove I could manage on my own, without Kathryn Jean.
He told me he was going to pay Kathryn Jean to come over and stay with me and Lizzy every day he was at work. He told my aunt he was hiring her to “mind the children”. I told him he could just pay me if he wanted to give away money. I overheard him tell my Uncle that he couldn’t stand another day of me “puttering around the kitchen”. That night I didn’t make anything to eat for dinner. I didn’t even heat the casserole my grandma had sent over. I didn’t even find anything for Lizzy to eat.
I remember seeing Kathryn for the first time. She came striding up the drive after I’d already made toast with jam for breakfast. Lizzy and I were both still wearing pajamas. Lizzy was covered in sticky purple crumbs. I caught a glimpse of Kathryn Jean through the kitchen window. Her hair was braided back. A yellow ribbon hung limply on each braid. She was hugging something to her chest. Her cat-eyed glasses had slid down her sweaty nose, but she didn’t seem to notice. I heard a hard knock on the door right after I saw her through the window. And then I heard the doorbell. And then I heard another knock. And then the doorbell again. “Alright, hold your horses!” I yelled while I hurriedly took anything Lizzy Beth could spill out of arms reach.
The doorbell rang once more. I whipped the door open before she could knock again. There was Kathryn Jean Sweed sticky from the heat and carrying a shiny new Flyin’ Saucer. “Hi, I’m Kathryn Jean Sweed. I’m minding you and your sister while your daddy is at work. It’s nearly ten o’clock in the morning. Why’ve you still got on pajamas?” she demanded in one breath.
At first I was telling my friends that Kathryn and I were cousins. It was the only way I could explain why a girl, hardly older than I was, came over every day. Only a couple of the other boys in the neighborhood had a babysitter, but those boys had a full house of brothers and sisters. Kathryn Jean’s presence just made me look like a stupid little kid. So, I lied. It was an impossible lie to maintain though, because Lizzy wasn’t old enough to back up my lie. I needed the backup because my next door neighbor was Alexander Geffen. He was the sort of kid who questioned every little exaggeration or tall tale. If you said you ran about a mile to catch a foul ball in a baseball, Geffen would mention that a baseball field wasn’t even a mile long.
Alex asked Lizzy if Kathryn was really my cousin. “No, Kathryn is not my cousin! She’s just a babysitter!” she’d answered like it was the dumbest question anyone had ever said to her. I forgave her though. She was only three and Alex was a rat for tricking a little kid. It was a rotten thing to do and I told him as much. We didn’t speak for the rest of the summer. Somehow, that left me spending my summer months with Kathryn and Lizzy Belle.
I turned thirteen on July 19th. My Aint Charlotte, my dad’s youngest sister, brought my gift from her and her husband that morning after my dad had left for work. It was wrapped in blue paper and had a green ribbon tied around it. When I unwrapped it the first thing I saw was “Nikon” printed plainly across the front of the box. I ran around the living room like a coyote whooping and shouting. Lizzy joined me for no reason other than to make a lot of noise. Kathryn arrived then. I didn’t see or hear her come in. I just turned around and she was there. She was carrying a Tupperware container full of cupcakes she’d made the night before. On the lid she balanced the Flyin’ Saucer.
My Aint Charlotte was the one who suggested we go to Amarillo Park that day. She said it was the best place to test out a new camera. She said it was an even better place to eat cupcakes. Kathryn was more excited than I was. She’d taken the money she’d earned from babysitting and had bought a brand new summer outfit. It was bright green like grass. She was proud of it. I could tell because she kept smoothing the creases in it. It made her hair look a little bit red. She looked pretty even with the bony knees, and the cat-eyed glasses. I didn’t say that I thought so though. I just packed a blanket for us to take out to the park, a snack for Lizzy, and my brand-new camera.
Kathryn had been trying to throw that Flyin’ Saucer right all summer. To be honest, she was awful at anything that needed coordination. I’d never seen a person so completely barren of athletic ability. That disc flew every way but to the person she was trying to get it too. We’d chased it all over my yard. By we, I mean me. Kathryn never went to fetch her terrible throws. She’d just point helpfully and make suggestions while I waded through the hedges.
My aunt though was excellent at sports. Turns out she was a good teacher too. She stood close behind Kathryn and helped her flick her wrist at the exact right time. Within the hour Kathryn was throwing the bright red disc like a champ. Or at the very least like someone who understood what a throw looked like.
This picture was of maybe her third or fourth successful throw. The Flyin’ Saucer slid on top of the air straight to Aint Charlotte and Lizzy. I wasn’t able to get the Flyin’ Saucer in the picture. I did get Kathryn’s goofy grin though. Kathryn Jean Sweed in the little green summer suit throwing a flying disc correctly for the first day was the very first photograph I ever took. It’s one of the best pictures I ever took too. My Aint Charlotte was right, the park was the best place to test out a new camera. She was wrong too though. Don’t go out to a park, in the middle of July, with a container of cupcakes. Not unless you want to share your puddles of frosting with ants.
About The Author:
Sirajah Raheem, in her own words: I’ve been asked “Where are you from?” nearly once a week for the past thirteen years. As I child I guess no one really cared that my accent mismatched their perception. As I grew into an adult my funny talk and fluffy hair became an oddity that could not possibly be regional. I’ve spent a lot of time explaining to people that I was born in Arizona. But haven’t lived there in 23 years, so you can’t really attribute me to my birthplace. I am aware that I sound foreign, I look foreign, and I have a foreign-sounding name. I’m cool with that not-weird-to-me-weirdness. And I’m cool with people asking. I will admit that I am a little bewildered every time though. I feel pretty normal. I’m interested in authoring an Imaginary Family Project entry because I love making up stories about strangers. It’s cool to create entire lives for people based on a tiny impression of them. It would be even cooler to know how well you’d guessed at their whole life. I like this project because it highlights the extraordinary parts of just being a normal person.
Authoring For The Imaginary Family Project:
We are temporarily closed to new authors. We will open it back up later this year. Thanks!
About The Imaginary Family Project:
The 2011 Imaginary Family Project is a year-long collective art endeavor coordinated by occasional amateur artist Quentin Bomgardner and co-sponsored by The Red Dirt Chronicles. This project is based around “lost” vintage photographs, which have been acquired at flea markets, garage sales, estate sales, and eBay – heirloom collections, with no heir. Every week a different author will “find” one photograph by creating an imagined history around one of its subjects. At the end of the year, the collection will be compiled and presented as a group.