Captured Memories

“I am going to disappoint you. But you knew that already.”

My ears sting as I absorb the meaning of each word, my heart like lead. His words tell me that we are on two different grieving paths that will not intersect anytime soon. I see him wanting to start a new life that doesn’t include his children and he sees me living in the past. He is right. I do want to hold onto the memories of my mother, while trying to shape a life in an uncertain future that will be difficult without her. Mom’s photos from her childhood and family life gave me comfort. And a linear connection to her past that I would have otherwise not known. But Dad threw them away.

Gone are the pictures of an intriguing old-fashioned past. Rotting away in a heap of garbage are the antique-looking pictures where the faces are emotionless, and people hold statue poses. The notion that I can longer see these images causes great panic and fear. Mom seldom shared her childhood, so these images were a gateway into her life before marriage.

They’re gone.

mom94

One saved image of Mom and parents in Texas.

He knows I love photos. Looking at them, studying them was simply staring at a moment captured in time. Imagining friendships with family members I have never met, especially my mom’s parents, was important to me.  I marveled at the palm-size, black and white photos with frayed corners, creating stories in my mind of 1950’s life.

Grandma Beth, a spitting image of my mother, always had a wide smile and gleam in her eye. Grandpa Art, appeared dark and brooding in some, and in others, can hear his emitting laughter.  I want so badly to be a part of this captured memory. Imagining one such event: Grandma Beth is smiling, holding a cigarette delicately in her hand while the others around appear amused. What made her smile? I place myself at the kitchen table, listening to the daily grandparent musings. Life happens here, where Grandpa Art, with his drink of choice, tells stories of his daily grind. Grandma Beth and future mother raptly listen.

Nothing special about these pictures, but to me, they meant everything.

Yet, the photos are gone.

One salvageable photo shows mom at the age of ten as she only comes up just below grandma’s waist, standing before a black car. Both are wearing what looks like their “Sunday’s best;” however, my mom’s feet are shoeless. I can hear the conversation now.

“Put on your shoes, just for the picture, hon!”

“No, it’s too hot!”

“Fine…Art just take the damn picture, please.”

Fast forwarding years, another saved photo of the mother-daughter pair shares a similar theme. It is Easter again. But this time, the pair is standing in front of a newly invented television, which is adorned with a Lily in a vase. Mom and grandma are dressed appropriately for church. My mom is wearing a fancy hat with a net that partially covers her eyes. On her shoulder is a corsage. Why, though, mom is not smiling while grandma is grinning widely? I can only speculate the conversation’s content before the camera flashed.

Traditions continue in an Easter photo taken in 1980’s of mom and her three children who seemed less than enthusiastic in creating memories. Dad surely said a funny line as mom is caught mid laugh. My sister stands opposite at attention, while I am trying to swish my brother’s arm from giving me the dreaded cooties. Interesting that a simple photo can capture complex relationships.

Grieving changes people. Devoted and committed to my mom, Dad did all and more as a traditional man should do for his wife and family. Once a proud and sentimental man, I recall making a production of having a family photo framed and given as a 25th anniversary present. He has transformed into a man who does not appreciate sentiments of the past in any form. I do not know the man that resembles my father.

He wants to let go of the past; I want to hang on. Disappointment in each other will only bring us down a solitary, widening path. We are grieving in the ways only we can understand. I daydream that he can come around the corner, yielding to the past. When that happens, I will be sure to capture the laughter and joy I know he has in his heart.

Semicolons and Bacon Don’t Mix

If Garth Stein can show the humanistic side of dogs in Art of Racing in the Rain, then Dean Koontz can illustrate that dogs have a great sense of humor – and a serious obsession with bacon.

Before reading Stein’s fiction piece, I read Dean Koontz’s memoir of his golden retriever, Trixie, in A Big Little Life. Reading chapter after chapter, Trixie became more and more charismatic. Soon I thought to myself: If only I could be an acquaintance of Dean Koontz just so I could play chase-the-tennis-ball with Trixie. Funny how dogs can bring people together!

One aspect of what made Trixie memorable before her passing was her shared delight and frustration with living a writer’s life. Loathing punctuation rules and desiring publication aspirations, surely humans can relate to Trixie’s story below:

Excerpt from Dean Koontz’s A Big Little Life:

My Summer

By Trixie Koontz, Dog

Dad teaches me to type. Hold pencil in mouth and type. At first is fun. Then is not fun. He saysTrixie to me, “Write, Trixie, write. Write essay for Web site.” Being good dog, I write. Not fun, but I write.
Expect treat for writing. Get no treat. Stop writing. Get treat. Carob biscuit. Good, good, good. Okay, so I write some more.

Dad promises Web site visitors my essay end of July. Must give up important ball chasing, important napping, important sniffing – all to write. Work hard. Writing hard. So many words. Stupid punctuation rules. Hate semicolons. Hate; hate; hate. Chew up many pencils in frustration.

Finish article. Give to Dad. Then I rip guts out of duck. Duck is not real. Is Booda duck, stuffed toy. I am gentle dog. Cannot hurt real duck or even cat. But am hell on stuffed toys. Work off tension. Rip, rip, rip. Feel pretty good. Cough up soggy wad of Booda-duck stuffing. Feel even better.

Dad gives editorial suggestions. Stupid suggestions.

Stupid, stupid, stupid! He is not editor, is writer. Like me, Trixie Koontz, who is dog. I pretend to listen.

Am actually thinking about bacon. Bacon is good. Bacon is very good. People call me “good dog, good, very good.” Bacon is very good. I am very good. But I am not bacon. Why not? Mysterious?

Then I think about cats. What is wrong with them? Who do they think they are? What do they want? Who invented them, anyway? Not God, surely. Maybe Satan? So serious writing about cats, I use too many italics. Then I hit hateful semicolon key; don’t know why; but I do it again; and whimper.

Dogs are not born to write essays. Maybe fiction. Maybe poetry. Not essays. Maybe advertising copy. Here is my advertising copy: BACON IS VERY GOOD. BACON. BUY LOTS OF BACON. GIVE TO ME. THANK YOU.

Dad gives me editorial notes for study. Eight pages. I pee on them. He gets message.

Dad says will give my essay to webmaster as is. Webmaster is nice person, nice. She will know good writing when she sees it.

Days pass. Weeks. Chase ball. Chase rabbits. Chase butterfly. Chase Frisbee. Begin to notice sameness in leisure-time activities. Pull tug-toy snake. Pull, pull, pull. Pull tug-toy bone. Pull, pull, pull tug-toy rope. Lick forepaw, Lick a more private place. Still do not taste like bacon. Get belly rub from Mom. Dad. Mom. Dad. Get belly rub from Linda. Get belly rub from Elaine. From housekeeper Elisa. Belly rub, belly rub. Read Bleak House by Mr. Charles Dickens, study brilliant characterizations, ponder tragedy of human condition. New tennis ball. Chase, chase, chase! Suddenly is September.

Webmaster asks where is Trixie essay? Where? Dad lost. Dad got busy working on new book, got busy, forgot fabulous Trixie essay, and lost it. My human ate my homework. Sort of.

All my hard work, my struggle, so many hateful semicolons. All for what? All for nothing. Essay lost. All for nothing. Feel like character in Bleak House.

      Think about getting attorney. Get literary agent instead. Writing fiction. Novel. Maybe knock Dad off best-seller list. Teach him lesson. Writing novel called My Bacon by Trixie Koontz, Dog. Already have invitation from Larry King, David Letterman, be on shows, do publicity, sell book, get belly rub from Dave. Maybe get limo for media tour. Ride around in limo, chasing cats. Life is good when you’re a dog.

 

Work Cited

Koontz, Dean R. A Big Little Life: A Memoir of a Joyful Dog. New York, Harper, 2009.