Originally posted as part of a larger post, September 24, 2008.
My mother and her brother were over at my grandmother’s house a day or so after she died. I was sitting at the table and I looked up at the top of the server, as she called it, a huge China closet on top of a chest of drawers, essentially. There were several photos up there, most of my cousin and his several kids, with a couple of me and my sister and our other cousin thrown in.
I saw a guy I didn’t recognize in a terrible orange Lucite frame shaped like the number 1 thrown in among the photos of all of us, and I asked my mother who that was, the guy in the number 1 frame? I don’t know, she said, maybe someone’s kid in the neighborhood from over the years, as my grandmother’s photo albums were crammed with literally hundreds of birth announcements and photos of birthdays, school years, weddings and graduations of her kids’ friends and the people who had come and gone from the neighborhood over the almost 70 years she lived in that house. It wasn’t unusual to see strange faces in the albums.
I got up and took the frame down and sat down with it to study it closer. It was the random paper picture that came with the frame. She had never taken it out or used it for anyone else.
“It isn’t anyone we know. It’s just the picture that came in the frame.”
My mother and her brother cracked up. They are both extremely loud.
“HAHAHAHAHA,” he bellowed. “She probably didn’t even know it wasn’t real! She probably felt bad cause she didn’t remember who he was and she kept him up there anyway. HAHAHAHAHA. She probably felt bad and left him up there with all of you guys.”
I looked down at him. An attractive young man, requisite senior picture, black suit, grayish background, hopeful, graduating stock photo smile, in an orange Lucite frame shaped like a number one.
“This is Cousin Number One,” I said. “He can stand for all of the random people who came in and out of here over the years. It was always someone. Might as well be him.”
My grandmother collected people. Some of them I liked, some of them I didn't. It's an odd tendency, this way of gathering in just as a matter of course. You end up with people who have nowhere else to go - people in some cases who no one else can really stand. As many times as I thought it was nice, I had lots of times where it was like, wow, who are you?
My mother’s brother took the pictures of his son and grandkids down from the top of the server. My mother took the ones of my sister and me. I stuck Cousin Number One in my purse. The symbolism was almost too much to take, but I wasn’t leaving him there.
I took him to her funeral a couple of days later, and in a move that further cemented my sister’s perceptions of me as teetering on the brink of weirdly eccentric and not just blithely neurotic, I took him out of my purse during the service and put him on the hymnal rack, an orange plastic number one guy staring straight at me from the back of the pew.
Strange, yeah, a little. I'm a strange girl at times. But looking at him kept me from completely losing it during the service and when I had to get up on the altar and read, I was pretty much okay and this was a room that I really did not want to lose it in.
He sat there, smiling, just like he did on the shelf at CVS or Michael’s or wherever someone bought that dreadful frame. He sits there today in my mother’s China closet, in with the dishes and the figurines, behind the mini-altar of photos of my grandmother that she put together for her after she died. He's a little bit towards the back, not so obvious in the shadows in the closet.
I like knowing he’s there. He’s everyone, or he could be. And he is not me.
I'm digging through some old posts because Listen to Your Mother Baltimore ruminating got me onto a link that led me to a link and then a few more from the days when I used to write all of the time, and a good bit of it was about the mothers in my life for awhile there. I'm also pretty sure that my recovery is sending me back over some spots that I need to check out, because I've forgotten some things. 2005 on was pretty rough, and the personal stuff really hit the fan in 2008. Looking back a little bit is all part of the healing. Context. That it--and I--wasn't all bad, that some of it was okay, that useful things happened, that there were reasons for the downward slide besides inevitability, are all good things to throw into the hopper. I'm reminded a lot of days by people who are wiser than I am to trust the process, that increased patience is critical for my peace of mind, and while I'm not so good at that at all, I really am trying. The stories are still important. Hopefully there will be some new ones soon here, like there are every day out here.