External Photo Clues:
After she died, my grandfather took this and every photo of her and put them in a drawer, and my mother and I moved back to the farm.
He didn’t talk to me much. He didn’t talk at all, really, except to say, “Pass the ham,” or “Stop fussing, Delores,” when my mother tried to cut his meat or set out his pills. I chewed my own dinner and watched them negotiate these new boundaries.
Sometimes I walked behind him as he plowed, kicking the dirt with my sneakers. Sometimes he would say to me, “Good thing you’re here, son. Now you can learn how to be a man.” I was seven and had never realized that being a man was something that required study.
I was only just learning how to turn away from my mother’s kiss, to not run for her arms when I scraped my knee. “Delores,” he would say from his arm chair, “don’t coddle the boy or he won’t grow up right.”
I started to miss my grandmother’s softness.
She had stumbled that day, when we visited the cave and had chicken sandwiches on the leaning picnic table out front. I was more interested in the silver toy gun I wore at my hip and the dark coolness of the cave than anything the adults were concerned about, especially once the lectures started about how my mother had made her husband run off.
I pulled my gun from the holster again and again, staring into the cave like it held a wild set of outlaw robber horse-thief gunslingers, crowing as they counted up their latest haul. My gun alone could keep them from their evil path and I was determined to stand between them and their freedom.
I nearly had them, too, when my mother put her hand on my arm and told me to quit it before I fried her last nerve.
“Let him play,” said my grandmother. “Let him be a boy.”
It seemed certain now, at seven, after she died and we pretended that she’d never lived, that the only way to survive was to be a man, whatever that meant.
I thought about my father and how he had gone. I thought about my grandfather, stubborn and struggling to prove he could look after himself after 40 years of my grandmother’s gentle care.
Outlaws who make their homes in caves don’t need their mothers or chicken sandwiches cut in half and wrapped in parchment paper, and they definitely don’t need someone to tie their shoelaces or check their homework. They can keep their guns polished just fine, thank you very much. They can live on what they shoot and skin, and butter bread they slice themselves.
My mother cut his steak and washed his socks and smoothed down my hair before school.
No one noticed when I took my grandmother’s pillow and switched it with my own.
It seemed like being a man meant never saying please or thank you when someone made you dinner, or listening to the radio even when others wanted quiet so they could think. Or telling your daughter that she was raising a soft boy, Delores, damn it.
It seemed like being a man was knowing when someone else wasn’t.
About The Author:
Eve Rosenbaum is a graduate student and writer currently living, for some reason, in Iowa.
Authoring For The Imaginary Family Project:
Are you interested in “finding” one of our lost vintage photos by authoring a story?
Please visit this link:
Imaginary Family Project Author Request Form
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.