We were doing fine until we found that shoebox.
For the last few Saturdays, I’ve been going over to my auntie’s house in Manhattan to help her clean her apartment.
Last week we made some progress reducing the clutter in her walk-in closet and yesterday we renewed our attack, directing our efforts to the various boxes that sat on the shelves.
We discovered two boxes of shoes that she apparently hadn’t worn in a while and then I reached up for a third box expecting to find yet another pair of kicks.
But this time we struck gold.
This box was filled with dozens of old family photographs, a ton of jumbled memories, many without names or dates, all thrown together in a haphazard history.
The moment we pulled back the lid, my auntie and I both knew it was quitting time. I switched off the closet light, we pulled up some chairs, and went back in time.
Clicking through digital images doesn’t begin to compare with looking at these old pictures, where you can almost feel the years passing by.
There were photos of my nieces when they children (they’re both adults now), a number of people I didn’t know, and two old black and white images. The first shows a couple and their three children, while the other is picture of their four-year-old daughter sitting outside their house.
The man and woman were my grandparents. I never knew my grandfather, though I’m told he cried easily at sad movies, a weakness that passed from him, to my mother, and down to me. My grandmother was elderly when I was growing up and she died when I was in the fifth grade.
A Long Time Ago
Their oldest daughter in the photo was my Aunt Mary, who had come to America from Italy with my grandmother and died when she was 18 years old. Growing up I heard a lot about Mary, but it took a long time for me to fully understand her loss, and feel the pain of a life that ended far too soon.
The young boy is my Uncle Walter, who would grow up to be a bomber pilot in World War II.
And then there’s that little girl who appears in both photos.
“That’s your mother,” my aunt said.
I stared at the photograph in disbelief. That beautiful like child clutching a stuffed animal, seated near a little wagon, and looking at the camera with this slightly confused look on her face—that’s my mother?
Of course, she’s not my mother in that picture, not even close. She would have a long way to go before me and my siblings make our appearance.
I wanted so badly to speak to my mother, squeeze her hand, and tell her much love her and how badly I miss her. I took everything I had to keep from crying.
I remember once when we were kids and my mother got fed up with our fighting.
“Life is over in second,” she declared. “You may think it’s long, but it’s really just a second.”
And looking through those old photographs I see how right she was. One moment she’s a little girl and the next moment she’s a grandmother. And now she’s a memory.
I looked through the photos of my niece Kristin on her first Holy Communion and my youngest niece Victoria on vacation and appearing on stage in Kabuki make-up for a school production. I wish my mother could be here to see how they’ve grown.
I took some photos of the pictures, put everything back in the shoebox and then it was time to leave.
So, yeah, we didn’t get much accomplished in the way of cleaning yesterday, but my heart sure got a hell of a workout.