By Gwen Angstrom
The Woman sat in the ancient porch swing that needed oil and paint from many lazy summer afternoons of use. She looked of indeterminate age, perhaps a young eighty or an old seventy, but the lovely young woman of twenty-five next to her knew her to be exactly seventy-eight years and nine months. Together they were perusing an old picture album, covered in brown velvet with gold filigree trim.
The Woman mused, “They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but they are wrong.” She was looking at a five-generational photo setting on this very swing that had to be about twenty-four years old since Granddaughter was still a chubby baby in arms with a mass of auburn curls.
“I would give anything to have just one hour of that day listening to a thousand words from those lips,” the Woman said, as her swollen fingers caressed the two older Women in the photo. “My grandmother – your great-great – looks like she has a burr in her saddle and she was always so stern. I was scared of her when I was a girl. But when I grew up, I found out she had lost her second and third child to diphtheria when they were only two and four. After that, she never let anyone in.” The Woman’s finger moved shakily to the next oldest woman who almost smiled into the camera. “My mother – your great granny – she tried so hard to make up for the loss of her siblings, so she never did discover who she was. Ran off with my dad when she was eighteen and that lasted long enough to have me.”
Granddaughter was looking at the middle woman now. “You look, well, harried, Gram…is that how you were feeling then?” They were both gazing at the fifty-three year old Woman with the bee-hive hairdo and the frantic eyes.
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I was. You know how hard it is to keep everyone happy? Your mom was – I hate to say it, my dear, but she really was – totally potted that day. I spent all afternoon trying to keep her away from my mother and grandmother or there would have been words that could never be taken back. And you, my dearest little one, spent most of your time with me then, while she tried to ‘get her head together’ as they said then.” Two hands entwined and two voices were silent for a long moment. “But we did get together long enough for the picture,” the Woman said, as she closed the album.
As Granddaughter rose to leave, the Woman hugged her close and said, “Try to say all the words you need to before it’s too late.” She added softly, “Perhaps a short visit with your mom?”