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Thursday, October 15, 2015

(All I've Got is a) Photograph

Back to blogging with my three co-bloggers!  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.  Ok, mostly.  Sometimes?  Don’t judge me.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Merryland Girl           
Moma Rock

Merryland Girl chose this week’s topic and she said, simply:  Nostalgia.  Here’s my take:

            My Dad did not have any brothers, just a younger sister, Sophie, who passed away really young, before I was even born.  However, my Dad did have two relatives who were like brothers to him:  his cousin, Philly, who was a few months older than he, and his uncle, Junior, who was in that same age range (he was a “surprise” baby, or so I’m told).  The three men grew up as would siblings, and my Dad has the stories to prove it.  (My favorites involve them stealing hot pies off of a windowsill and eating the insides of the free bread they got from the nuns at school, bringing home only the empty crusts.)

            Many years later – after Uncle Junior was gone – cousin Philly put together a set of photo DVDs for himself and for my Dad.  He spent a great deal of time compiling photos and setting them to music.  He mailed a set to my Dad, as Philly had long since moved to Northern California, away from his childhood Chicago home.

            God, how I hate those DVDs.

            I don’t hate them in principle; I think Philly’s gift is sweet and thoughtful and loving.  No, I hate them in practice.  I hate watching them.  It depresses me.

            I’m sure my dislike has something to do with my Mom’s running commentary whenever we, as a family, sit down to look at the photos:

            “Oh, there’s Steve!  Remember him, Len?”  A pause.  “He’s dead.”

            “Look, there’s your Uncle Johnny!”  A pause.  “He died right after your Grandpa.”

            “Awww, is that Uncle Al?”  A pause.  “How did he die, Len?”

            And the Parade of the Deceased goes on.

            I was lucky enough to meet maybe half of the people featured in the DVDs, to meet them and know them and love them . . . before they died.  I miss them, and seeing their photos (while hearing my Mom’s comments) is hard sometimes, particularly when it comes to seeing my Grandpa and Grandma (passed in 1990 and 2001, respectively), my Uncle Tilly (real name:  Attillio, who passed in 1992 (when I lived in L.A. and couldn’t return home for the funeral), and, now, Philly, who himself passed away last year.  I knew them the best and miss them the most.  The photos are just reminders of that lingering, tamped down grief. 

            But, more than that, my Dad’s silence during the photo montage tells me that he, too, is saddened by the pictures.  Rarely does he laugh or smile while we watch, even when he sees video of himself playing the drums (which I love) or of his long-passed sister or parents, or of Uncle Junior or Philly.  I feel his grief, too.  I do.  He is watching memories, but it’s more than that:  he is remembering – and missing – his family, people he hasn’t seen in years, people he will never see again.  My Dad has the unenviable role of being the patriarch of his family, the eldest male in a group where he was once the baby, or at least the child.  He’s mentioned it more than once, which in Dadspeak means it bothers him.  He wishes it were different.

            Yes, I might enjoy the photos without my Mom’s comments, but I’m not so sure.  I’d still feel my Dad’s pain, and my own.  I’d still wish I could once again hug my Grandpa, see my Uncle Tilly’s beautiful blue eyes sparkle, hear Philly’s devious laugh, smell my Grandma’s perfume.  I keep their images in my head and their spirits in my heart, and I guess I don’t need – or want – any other reminders.  At least not now.  Not when seeing the pictures hurts more than it helps, not when I watch my Dad and wonder how much longer I will have him, knowing the day will come when he, too, is reduced to a memory – a photo in a frame, an image on a screen, a tugging on my heart, a name on my lips.  A loss.  Nostalgia. 


  1. Great post. My mom has no siblings, so her first cousin is like a sister to her.
    It is sad to see pictures of relatives who are no longer with us. Then I think about how my MIL said that she never met her grandparents and I feel blessed to have as much time as I did with mine.

  2. I know how you feel. I get to feeling that way when I see old photos or home movies from my childhood. It's bittersweet, that's for sure. I love watching them, though, because I feel close to my family again, even when I can't be with them. Thank you for this wonderful post!