Photography was part of my life from the time I was born or even before. After my parents passed away, I inherited the family pictures—literally thousands of them. Dad was an avid photographer, even a photo-journalist for a time and later illustrated his own articles and stories for various outdoor adventure magazines. There were many negatives from an assortment of cameras from a large format Speed Graphic to the 35mm Leica but most from the 2x2 Rolleiflex twin lens cameras he used.
As I went through the collection I got to see many shots from my parents’ hectic WW II courtship. Everything was speeded up at that time so they met in May and wed in July. I came along not quite ten months later, just barely a legal honeymoon baby in April 1943. I was the first grandchild on both sides so of course became the subject of many pictures to share through the families. I was probably spoiled rotten and maybe still am in some ways. Though nearly bald in appearance for a couple of years, I was otherwise a fairly photogenic child although normally very serious in demeanor.
Going through the mass, I found many negatives that had never been printed and were thus new to me although I had seen some prints in albums and envelopes over the years. There were so many! I set aside the holiday shots especially, to go over more carefully later, especially Christmas and birthdays.
The first Christmas I was portrayed sitting in my high chair by the Christmas Tree, probably in my paternal grandparents’
home. I was a big-eyed somber faced mite, my fine blonde hair so pale it was
nearly invisible. That somber face appeared in a lot of shots although now and
then I did smile. My second Christmas I think we were in Kansas City Boston
and I never found for sure a photo of that event but by the next year, we were
back in Kansas City, just short of the big move
By my fourth, we were in Arizona
and I found all the next five—I gradually growing taller and more child and
less tyke, hair now enough to style in pigtails or a sleek page boy as it was
always rather straight. I’d be seated by the tree in the midst of a pile of
loot—various treasures that I can recall and some that I kept until I began the
series of late moves after my husband’s death. There were dolls, a toy stove, a
doll carriage, a loop-weaving loom, Chinese checkers, a nurse kit—and always
Then came 1951, my ninth Christmas although I was still eight. Those pictures show me seated in a little chair that I had for a long time. I was still big eyed but had a respectable head of hair, clipped on one side with a barrette. I was wearing overalls and a plaid flannel shirt with felt house slippers. In my arms I cradled a swaddled bundle that at first looked like a large baby doll—but this was a living doll, my new baby brother, just about six weeks old on his first Christmas. Brother Charlie—then called Mike—who changed my life and has been a big part of it ever since. We had our sibling rivalries and ups and downs but there has always been a powerful bond that holds to this day when we now share a home again, but ours and not controlled by our parents!
The next year he was still just a toddler and a bit puzzled by all the excitement. By the next year, though, he clearly knew what was going on and his small face lit with joy at the new toys and treasures arrayed around us. By then I was ten, almost eleven, and knew Mom and Dad were Santa Claus and soon began to work toward that role myself for Charlie and a later arrival in the family.
It was me who decorated the tree-always a small bushy pinon or juniper that we cut and rarely set up until Christmas Eve. Now I was almost as tall as the tree and could even put a star, usually one I had cut and pasted from scraps of foil, on the top. I began to make cards and gifts, a habit I continued with gradually improving skills, all my life. It was still great fun then.
There were three more Christmases recorded, through my fourteenth and Charlie’s eighth. By the last one I was near my adult height and beginning to look like a young lady—which my mother always wanted me to be although I defied most of her efforts and remained a tomboy. We both still smiled and held up new acquisitions and in that final record. But that was the last one.
It was about that time that Dad’s mental and emotional problems and the related financial and family issues reached the point where he had no desire or will to record the holidays. Often they were pretty grim and bleak. With some help from Mom, I did my best to be sure that Charlie, and Alex, when he came along in 1959, still had a tree and some gifts. And hopefully some good memories. By then it did not matter much to me as my interests and dreams had turned in other directions.
Going through all the photos I recognized there were many fewer pictures of Charlie than of me although his infancy and childhood were fairly well covered. Of Alex there were far fewer still. There were none of his birthdays since those of ours had stopped the same year that the Christmas shots ended. He missed that custom by a couple of years.
Eventually I did acquire my own camera, a Kodak “Brownie” box camera that took eight shots on 126mm film. I had a hard time affording film and it did not use flash. A later camera did but the flash cubes it took were even costlier, so indoor pictures were seldom possible. I would have tried to document holidays if I could but that did not happen.
Years later, I became a mom, albeit of kids “second hand and housebroke” as I often say. For their holidays I did try to get pictures and they have copies or the albums in which those were saved. I do not know if it mattered or not but I hope they treasure them. There were shots each year until they left home and some later when they came back for visits at the right time. I know I cherish my photographic memories and hope they will too.
I feel a pang today for the ones that are not there, especially for Alex. He died young and did not have a family of his own. Perhaps he never missed what he did not have but the sharp contrast of before and after shakes me still. I want to ask why and wish I might have made things different in some way. But that was not possible. The presence and sudden absence of those holiday pictures puts an exclamation point on an equally sharp and jolting change in our lives. I suppose children of broken homes and other wrenching events may feel the same way. Yet it remains to this day a loss to me although at least I do have several years of precious memories to keep and Charlie and I share them.