Born on Friday, June 24, 1955, I appear to be about one year old. It’s a faded, black and white print. A thoughtfully composed snap shot; it’s living proof of four generations. It was taken outside and has the feel of a shimmering, summer day. In the background, the front door is framed by flowering bougainvilleas. I always wondered who took this photograph. I consider this question every time I see a snap-shot. Who deserves credit for capturing a historical moment, stopping time at that precise instant?
It is taken at my great-grandparent’s residence on their property in Raymondville. At the time, it was a genuine Ruby Red grapefruit farm. My young, attractive mom is tenderly holding me and her poised mother is gracefully securing a rambunctious two year old, my brother in her grip. Dad, beaming with amusement, is strategically situated in the center. My grandfather is standing slightly angled, directly between his parents. They are lined up behind us. We’re all properly positioned, yet great-grandfather doesn’t seem happy. In fact, he died shortly after; August 23, 1956, He was 73. It was a timely gathering.
Was the occasion a May Mother’s Day or June Father’s Day tribute? Or a party for a birthday? Great-grandmother Blanche’s birthday was May 8. Maybe it was in her honor; she would have been 72. In 1956, Mom turned 20 on July 15th; that would have been worth celebrating but maybe it was for me. First birthdays are generally significant. Or perhaps, it was the mystery photographer’s birthday?
A few years later, in 1958, great-grandmother Blanche died. She was with one of her daughters; either aunt Pearl or aunt Judy in Austin. It wasn’t aunt Virginia because Virginia mainly stayed in Raymondville. In 1961, my parents evacuated to the Valley and left the five of us with their parents so they could go back after Hurricane Carla and find us another house. Aunt Virginia still lived in the family home. She didn’t work. Virginia had worked when she was 19; she’d been employed as telegraph operator. In 1961, I was six. She told me tales and sang softly while she polished her beloved mementos.
When great-grandmother Wahler died, an Estate was established as a means of providing support to aunt Virginia. Around that same time, but after Hurricane Carla, Virginia was confined to Jennie Sealy Psychiatric hospital. I remember that we would visit her frequently. After she’d been there awhile, she earned a day-pass. We would drive her to the beach. She and mom would go for walks while Dad built us miraculous sand structures. I recently discovered a snap shot taken during one of those treasured times.
Fast forward twenty years; now I am the young mother proudly holding my own one year old daughter. Another precious photo of four generations. It was taken in my grandparent’s den in Colorado at my grandfather’s last birthday on May 3, 1979. My daughter was 15 months old, and I was 23. My Aunt Alyce represents Mom’s generation in the photograph, since mom was not able to join us. Her image may not be apparent in the portrait, but her spirit was present indeed. Mom’s dad, my maternal grandfather died nine months later at 72 in February of 1980. I don’t remember who took the photo.
One May 8th, on great-grandmother Blanche’s birthday, in 1982, I had another daughter. I did not name her Blanche, she required her own name. We all live far from one another, but when we do get together; we remember to gather for the official generational photograph. The lasting legacy of a family’s love story might best be revealed by simply trying to answer the question of who is not visible. Who took the snap shot?