Claire is sad because her mother, Bernadette, has entered into the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and I am telling this story because I am struck by the natural empathy of a little girl who has not yet learned to harden her heart in an attempt to cope with an imperfect world. Hopefully, she will never learn.
Even the girls in his class at school were not so grown, not nearly so womanly. Yet here she stood, wearing perfume and lipstick, chestnut hair let down in smooth curls and parted on the side instead of yanked back in the standard girlish ponytail. Once he was caught staring, hot color flooded his cheeks.
We are sixteen and fourteen when we find it, and mom claims to be fifteen in this picture. It seems impossible that she’s not just playing dress-up. But she lied about her age to follow her husband who’d shipped out a week after they’d eloped. We feel as if we want to protect this girl, sandwiched between our ages.
Both Alex and Victoria were descendents from hard workers on each side of the family. They were both from very large families in Burneyville, Oklahoma. They knew how to share things and to be frugal. Alex and Victoria gave new meaning to the term, “survivors of the fittest.’
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.
It wasn’t like her to be sentimental. Aching memories of joy seemed like such a waste of time, like blooming flowers at a funeral. Out of place and unwanted amidst so much sorrow. I mean really, would it ever bring your loved ones back? Did they really ever ease the heartache?
I remember her hands, always her hands—moving when she talked. Emphasis and emotion rolling from her fingers, a constant energy in the air. Some nights I sat on the floor in front of her by the fire as she wound my hair in her hands, coiling each lock into a perfect pin curl. “There, Beauty,” she whispered. “All ready. Are you packed?” For thirty years we were together.
I’ll tell you what this is: it’s a photograph of my baby brother, William Wheaton Smith Jr., who we all called “Wheat.” Well, it’s not just a photograph of Wheat; it’s the photograph of him, is what I think. But you know, until now I was sure Mama burned it a couple of months after my brother came home. Didn’t she?
After selecting a picture for the Imaginary Family Project, I decided to post an ad at an online genealogy web site to see if anyone recognized the photo. Much to my surprise I received a reply after only a few days. Maryanne Ponder, from right here in Oklahoma City, emailed me…
A boy and a girl come pounding out the door of the house, followed by a woman in a housedress. The woman’s tall and thin; she looks a little worn. No surprise — the girl looks to be maybe 8 and the boy might be 11, and that combination would tire anyone out.
From the stories my Mother told she had only met her a few times and she painted a very intimidating picture of a stocky brutish woman, that never allowed herself even the tiniest bit of happiness. My father was a mystery, past and present.
My mother didn’t die. She jus t 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.
By the time this photo was taken of my mother she had made up her mind. I can tell because she looks almost happy. In this photograph—I found a bunch of them in a box in the garage with a yellow dress and an old, empty bottle of French perfume—she and my daddy are looking in different directions. They always were…
Marla sat in the tiny apartment on the second floor of a brick building so square that cockroaches couldn’t hide in the corner. Not that there were many cockroaches, since Burns Flat was dry and hot, and Marla was a meticulous housekeeper. “If you could call it housekeeping,” she thought to herself, wiping red dust off the window sill. “Not much of a house to keep.”
Luelinda Rogers Fluornoy is shown here delivering the cake she made for Granny Wescomb’s 64th birthday party in Shidler, Oklahoma circa 1954. Leulinda’s boyfriend (and Daddy’s farmhand) Robert Ashcraft who chauffeured her here in her daddy’s truck, is off to the side as he didn’t feel he had come properly dressed for such a photo. He said he, ‘never dreamed they’d be a takin’ pictures and such…’
Jay and Mary became fast friends, and we grew close to the Turner family over the next few years. By the time our kids were in high school, it was obvious to everyone except Jay and Mary that they were falling in love. Kids always seem to ignore what’s right in front of their noses. But by the time Jay was a senior in high school, even he had realized that he was in love with his next-door neighbor and best friend.
My mama disappeared that summer. Funny thing about memory, sometimes I don’t know the difference between my own true recollection and things I’ve been told. Maybe that’s due partly to hearing bits and pieces of this story over and over again my whole life, from the time that photo was taken to this day. And now look at me. Sitting here telling the same story all over again.
All the major county roads are lined with fence posts and barbed wire, and the black cows are scattered alongside a creek snaking through a field almost barren of trees. There’s something peaceful about gazing across flat land at a lone tree and a cloudless blue sky stretched like a blanket above my head. And as I gaze for too long and become lost in my thoughts, the tree becomes a stranger staring back at me until I lose the contest, look away, awed by the ache of quiet.
That’s my cousin Davey. We were about the same age and lived just a couple of miles from each other for most of our youth. We didn’t have any brothers or sisters and so were pretty close — as close as anyone could get to Davey, that is. Davey was a Cub Scout. Always tryin’ to do good. At least that’s how it seemed. As for me, I’d do right if it the situation arose, but I didn’t go outta my way. Still don’t.
“Hey Boo, look this a way. Come on. Look at your Maw Maw. Smile big. This is for your Momma. Smile.”
Mrs. Gracie felt sure she got it, the perfect shot to send off to Eugenia so her daughter could see just how big her little boy was getting to be.
There were 18 pictures left on the roll. Well, she would just have to use up the rest of the role so she could get the photographs back from the drug store to go out in the Monday mail.