could be, it’s one of the seemingly endless parade of tricks up his sleeve. his pajama sleeve, in particular.
this is, after all, a boy who’s been known to go hunting for cheetah in the deep of the post-bedtime hour. who routinely, for a while there, was hauling a whole artillery–light saber, batting helmet, frankinstein flashlight, did i mention the butterfly net–up to his mattress. a boy who thinks of 901 must-ask, can’t-wait, deep-thinking matters once the lights are flicked off. for instance: mommy, is tomorrow the hot dogs that bounce? (meaning, of course, the lunch lady’s un-bite-able excuse for stuffed sausage.)
or maybe it’s just that he’s grown fond of studying their faces, putting name to visage, ticking off his good nights in layers of history, layers of time, that’s not quite the same in the dark, under the covers.
but the latest wrinkle in our decidedly lengthening litany of things-to-be-done on the long road to bed is what he calls: “g’night faces.”
yes, there hanging at the near-top of the stairs, at the landing two-thirds of the way, at the spot where some day i’ll huff and i’ll puff and i’ll steady my old weary bones, there hang the four generations who preceded him on this lonely planet.
one by black-and-white one, he tells them g’night. it is all, now, a part of his bedtime prayer.
there is the hatmaker from philly looking, well, hattish, with a wide-brimmed number she deserves to be proud of.
there is a slew of great grandmamas, the one looking severe, and ever so proper, from cincinnati, and the other one, animated, wrinkled, the one whose nose he is pinching in a not-so-long-ago snapshot from silver springs, maryland.
and then there’s the one neither of us knew, the one who looks rather like me. she’s looking soft, looking shy, looking sepia, looking markedly lacy in the clothes from her first holy communion.
then there’s the grandma, the grandpa, the grammy he knows inside and out. but here on the wall, they’re mere children.
there is his grammy, the one who mostly wears jeans and shoes for the woods, and there she is, a dimple-kneed child dressed to the nines, with a big floppy bow in her hair, and impeccable, hand-tailored clothes on her and her brothers and sister. it’s a picture that makes me wonder, where is the chocolatey mess? how could five children and their non-smiling mother possibly be so starched, so without rumples or spills?
and there is his new jersey grandma, romping with both of her parents, there on one’s shoulder, and there in one’s arms. and there she is, again, maybe just out of college, looking out at the world with eyes that, i’ve got a hunch, saw far more than most in wherever that room was.
then come the grandpas, both sides. one, scribbling notes, raising a pen, just to the right of ol’ ronny reagan, at some talk at the white house (yes, to the manchild’s dismay, the republican presidential poster boy hangs just to the left of his bedroom).
and the other grandpa, the one he’s not ever known except for the stories i tell and i tell, there he is, hmm, feeding a kangaroo down in australia, and there he is with a big bunch of leafy-topped carrots, and again tickling accordion keys.
his mama and papa aren’t there on the wall at the top of the stairs, they’re just to the west on a littler wall. but it’s merely a hop and a jump, and he can get glimpses of us growing up.
there’s his papa at the side of a plane, lined up with his heroes from baseball, tom seaver, and some other guy i should know, but i don’t. there’s even a charcoal drawing of my little one’s daddy. and of me, there’s a whole page of proofs from when i was four, and my brother was two, and we’d buried our noses in giant chrysanthemums, for the front page of the cincinnati enquirer. there is me, too, crying, looking shocked as i was, when they called out my name as homecoming queen, the first non-beauty queen ever, back at my high school.
in black-and-white rectangles, then, the story is told. the once-upon-a-time comes to life, in ways that names without faces cannot.
no wonder he takes to the wall. no wonder there’s no going to bed, anymore, without the g’night to the faces.
each night, i imagine, he notices, as do i, one more bit of the picture. a nuance, a shadow there in the eyes.
we study old pictures, we urge them to tell us a truth we’ll not really hear, no matter how long we stand there and stare.
but my little one is six. he’s the last one, it seems, of his generation. there are many before him whose lives he must sift through, to come to a deep knowing of just where he stands in his place in the line.
as long as my boys have been going to bed, there’s a prayer that we pray every night. we thank God for all of their parts, their eyes and their ears and their nose, right down to their back and their tummy. then, 14-some years now, we tick off each of the ones that they love, each of the ones who love them right back. we start with grandma and grandpa, we blow kisses to ones up in heaven.
and now, now that the g’night faces are part of the nightly equation, the prayer, he tells me, has come right to life.
“i look at the pictures and i just think i wish i could hear what they’re saying,” he told me last night. “sometimes i just wish i could go in those pictures. i wish i could see them in person–like grandpa geno,” who is my papa, who was gone 20 whole years before the little one came to the planet.
i know what it is to stand and stare at a picture. to wish you could will it to life. and maybe that’s part of the reason we hung them right by the stairs.
so that, in all of our comings and goings, our ups and our downs, the ones who came here before us, the ones whose noses we share, the ones whose brains we did or didn’t inherit, each one of them, all of them now hanging together, would come off the wall, and become a part of our everyday story.
and even our bedtime prayer.
g’night grandmas. g’night grandpas. see you in the morning.
do you have a place in your house where history comes to life? real history? your history? do you spend time thinking of those whose story unfolded long before yours? if you have children, do they love to look back at old pictures, to hear the stories that come with each 3-by-5, 5-by-7, or an even earlier sepia one that comes in odd measures?
speaking of story telling, a year of pull up a chair is days away from wrapping up. oh, we’ll go on pulling up, all right, but my everyday exercise in recording a year will be over. i will keep at this practice of searching for grace on the homefront, but not every day, i don’t think. you’ve heard more than enough. i’ll say more next week about this most blessed year, and look ahead to the next. i’ll be curious–very much so–to hear your thoughts, so i’ll ask. i just thought i’d mention today that come tuesday, i’ll have written for a whole year of mondays through fridays, december 12, 2006, through december 11, 2007. it’s a lot for me to think about, and i’m already pondering it now. until next week, then, have a most blessed weekend. and thank you for these last 51.5 weeks. love, the chair lady
To have shared all you have shared makes us all markably wholer. Thank you for your heart and view (and comments!) A beauty queen you are-god gives us such beauty, it is up to us how we display it. Of course you were homecoming queen, I bet your reunions(if you attend)are remembered with the greatest fondness by your peers, knowing if they did one great thing in life, it was procaliming you there queen. The coming home queen, more aptly put-all the appreciation I can muster here for including me in your nucleus Blessings today, peace & take care-
Friday, December 7, 2007 – 09:35 AM
gorgeous! you’ve done it again. now i know why we spent all that time putting those pictures up there.
Friday, December 7, 2007 – 03:13 PM
Taped inside a kitchen cabinet in my house are several photos:
1) A photo of a great-grandmother as a teen, probably in the 1870s, in her native costume in Bohemia–colorized red, white and greet, with head-dress.
2) Two photos from the 1930s of my mother, looking like Shirley Temple with a skinned knee and stuffed bunny.
3) My grandmother and her sister, all decked out in downtown shopping attire–hats with veils, gloves, dresses, nifty handbags–probably from the 1940s.
4) A photo from the 1950s of my grandmother holding my sister in one arm and my hand in the other hand, in front of my mother’s wonderful flower garden in full bloom. My grandmother is wearing a summer dress and pumps–and, according to neighbors, this is what she wore to garden and weed.
When I need a little fix of family history, I open the cabinet and suddenly feel connected and warm inside.
Friday, December 7, 2007 – 04:03 PM
This is in response to you, true. No intention to embarrass but as my friend the proprietress of this blog once told me when I had silly typos, “You can’t erase the comments.” Sorry, bam, in advance. (Lovely essay, by the way, and photo.)
I went to high school with this here essayist. I didn’t exactly know her — she was a freshman when I was a senior — but almost: she was my brother’s friend after I left for college. At one of life’s junctures or another many years ago now, we met up again and became fast friends.
I meet people from high school from time to time and, if they’re not my age, they are perhaps someone else’s I know so we play geography. Whenever we land on Ms. Barbara Ann, I get a story. The stories are unique to them but with one common thread: the one where they were struggling, or blue, or shy, or lost and my friend was kind to them, sought them out, or included them.
The woman was already in the girl those years ago. How many high school girls leave that kind of legacy?
Saturday, December 8, 2007 – 12:18 AM
How lovely to think of you as a homecoming queen….cause that is what we do as we pull up to the table – come home to our selves and rest a bit while we ponder a photo and a question that might touch something deep within our spirit and memory. We may write something about what ever has been stirred or rearranged, or we may just wander through the day with with a slight shift of perception and be content with that. Either way we have spent some time going inward to self and spirit and that is a generous gift from the “homecoming queen”.
I love Jan’s comment that the “woman was already in the girl” and believe it to be true of all us (“man in the boy” also!) Once a month I talk on the phone with a wise woman out in Colorado and she helps me a bit on my spiritual path. This is her avocation. I was sharing a story about the little kindergarten ones at my school rehearsing their angel parts for the Nativity play and she remembered that she was the Angel Gabriel in her Nativity play in 1st grade. She laughed as she remember standing on a box in her living room rehearsing for her one line for her parents and shouting “FEAR NOT” over and over. It was my turn to laugh and observe that she was still doing that…..helping people to “fear not” and rest in their spirit.
Thanks as always BAM for helping us find ourselves in our past, present, and future with your pictures within pictures and your words of wisdom….you are the best homecoming queen ever.
Saturday, December 8, 2007 – 08:00 AM
all right, people, you are making me cry here on a saturday morning. i have never, until this moment, thought of homecoming queen in that way, and suddenly it is sooooooo dear, i am melting. wise jan, echoed by beautiful luminous lamcal, isn’t it funny how with the slightest twist of the kaleidoscope, all the colors come spilling in a sudden and new explosion of vision? so it just happened now. as lamcal says, it is the slightest tweak on perspective that suddenly makes everything clear. and so, i hear the aha!
of course i was proud when it happened. because to me–to me who never felt like any of the things that a homecoming queen is supposed to feel, to be–it was the unlikeliest, pinch-me moment ever. it was the one time i felt like i got the ring, handed to me. if you could see the picture you would see this look of fear, almost, coming through. i look afraid to be crowned the homecoming queen. interesting there. how many times are we afraid to own up to all who we are? jan i think of your point–the woman inside of the girl–and lamcal’s echo, her story of the angel, shouting FEAR NOT, the angel who becomes a spiritual guide…….that then births a question, how many someones are all around us every day, being so damn afraid to be handed the crown that is her or his glory? how many children? how many grownups? how many of all of us cannot see our own possibility? if home-coming queen can be redefined, starting now, not as the blonde beauty, but rather as a guide to coming home in the deepest soul sense of that world, well then, oh my goodness, i am finally no longer afraid…….where would i be without all of the wise souls in my life? the ones, all of you, stacked up above…….bless you, each and every one. who knew a passing mention of a picture, up on my wall, would lead to all this. the picture has always compelled me–otherwise i wouldn’t be hanging it on my wall. it was the fear in my eyes, the fear in the face of something i secretly wished to come true, it was that that compelled that drew me, that until now left me so very puzzled. hmm. i get up from this table, to go pour more coffee, a little more clear-sighted than ever i’ve been, at least on that particular subject……
one other thing about the picture, and the storyline attached to it, that has always haunted me…….the next monday when i went to school, a very smart, cynical english teacher came up to me, and asked in her classically cynical way, if i had heard of the book, “the demise of the homecoming queen,” or some such title. “you should read it,” she said, as she wandered away. that stuck with me of course. and then, not six months later i was in a hospital, the skinniest one on the floor. i was anorexic, a word that still makes me shudder. i think i caved in under the weight of trying to be everything to everyone. anyway, in my mind, forever, there is that link, between the dream and the prophesy and the downfall. it is part of why the picture so haunts me. i see it coming, now as i look at that picture. i see what the cynical english teacher predicted, what i could not keep from happening…….but oh my goodness it is that downfall, that falling so hard and so flat on my face, that has informed so much of everything.
how odd to be so utterly honest here on a screen. but i believe in truth. and what a way, honestly, to wind up a very long year…..your thoughts, please…..
Saturday, December 8, 2007 – 09:01 AM
I am getting picked up in 30 seconds so no time for a thoughtful response, so my quick one: that last comment was some of the best writing, and that means so much more than writing, that I have witnessed here. And that’s saying a lot cause it’s all been so darned good.
It’s the deep and courageous truthfulness, I think, that is touching me so. It lovingly invites me to look at my truths.
Saturday, December 8, 2007 – 12:36 PM
loved your last couple of lines Jan – “….invites me to look at my truths.” and then so perfectly – “They’re honking.” Those truths are always honking, if you will, letting us know they are there and waiting for us to go for a ride to another place. Bam, your year of reflection and invitation to share that time, has carried all of us to old places inside ourselves and then has allowed us to create new ones. This work, to be done well, can only be done honestly. So we are all redefined and will continue to be….fear is part of this journey for everyone. Some take fear and turn it into a defensive weapon, like the cynical english teacher. If we are lucky, we don’t get that opportunity, but must get through our struggles with honesty and truth. Your honesty invites others to feel safe enough to take that chance. My mom was always honest and open with others about our family’s struggles. She used to say that you might as well hang out the family laundry to dry in the sunlight, even if it isn’t so white….someone is bound come by and have a thought on how to whiten it up some and that could make all the difference. You have made a difference….blessings.
Sunday, December 9, 2007 – 09:07 AM