My mother is somewhere between twenty-four and thirty-two years old even though I am fifty. I can see her standing smartly dressed in ultra hip 1970s print pants and matching jacket, or in the trendy hot pants and mini skirts that I remember caused such a stir. Her hair is generally shoulder length, dyed a honey-color and takes on a variety of very with-it styles. Most look flattering though there are a couple I would have discouraged had she been moved to ask for a seven year old’s opinion. A lot of people can’t picture their parents as modern young and groovy – I can’t picture my mother as anything but.
After living separately for most of our lives, including the spells when we lived in the same house, my mother passed away when she was barely older than I am now. Almost every clear image I have of her comes from carousels of slides my stepfather took when we were all younger. The pictures start during their courtship when I am just turning six, my brother’s a little more than seven and my sister, barely four. In them we are goofy, toothless, still waiting to really introduce ourselves. They end when I’m about twelve. I don’t know if he lost interest in photography, or was beginning to lose interest in us, but there aren’t any after about 1974. It’s possible that he grew tired of being waved away as we became self-conscious and self-centered teens and tweens. At some point when your parent—looking through a third eye—instructs you to smile, you do just about anything else.
My mom doesn’t smile broadly, or sometimes at all, in the pictures. The face that I’ve pressed into my memory is serious and impatient. And that’s how I remember her, especially with me. Restless, almost agitated. I can somewhat understand that since I am never at ease on the target side of a camera either, or maybe her tight expression was something else entirely. I study so many of the photos wishing I could see her the very moment after that shutter closes again, when the camera is lowered, and she turns back to her life. I want evidence of her stirring her coffee, dropping a bobby pin while rolling curlers in her hair, crocheting another god-awful granny-square vest, tossing her head back in laughter while dancing the Lindy. These are all things I saw her do, just cannot prove. I hope somewhere there are cosmic scrapbooks of other uncorroborated moments like those. It would be fun to flip through them and titter over the way she looked, while secretly coveting her clothes.