Monthly Archives: March 2013

Gazing back and looking forward…..

After the recent death of my mother and the subsequent preparation for the sale of her house, there have been many photographs unearthed in her belongings that have never been viewed before. Looking back over a history of so many moments/instants captured and preserved on paper has been quite emotional.

On one hand it is poignant and sad looking at images of people who are no longer present in my life, yet on another, it is simply wonderful to gaze at them and reflect and dream about how each image was caught and preserved during a particular time.

We currently dwell in a modern age where digital images saturate and bombard us every day. Street surveillance, mobile phone technology and digital cameras capture us instantly as we go about our daily lives, and we have come to accept this as being normal as we view ourselves constantly on social media networks and various other online platforms. We can change our captured images to reflect how we are feeling at any particular moment on any particular day. We have the capacity, the skill and the ability to do this. In monetary terms, there is little cost. We can be who we want to be at any given moment and we can reveal ourselves in many guises.

This is contrary to the way that images were captured in our recent past. The photographs that I have been looking at were mostly ‘group’ shots, where people who were together for special occasions  posed for a ‘snap’, and this unique moment was then captured by someone who was fortunate to have a camera, could afford film, and who took the trouble to have it processed afterwards. This resulted in the myriad of black and white photos that have recently been discovered amongst my mother’s things.

There is something visceral about looking at these snapshots that tugs at my heart in a way that modern images fail to do so.

I found myself gazing at unknown faces, looking at particular features and wondering if I somehow ‘belong’ to them, and if my own genetic makeup was inherited from them. Some of the photos have names and places written in faded ink on the back of them identifying faces and places, others are blank. These are the ones that are the most intriguing. I don’t know who these people are, and if they are connected to me somehow down through time and history.

It has been a journey of discovery as I attempt to identify a whole generation of people that I never knew, yet that I can somehow recognise in particular features that live on in me and my family.

I have a marked crooked little finger on my right hand that is a throwback to my mother’s family. Growing up, she had two sets of twin siblings, and one of each twin was marked by this mutant crookedness. One of each set has a crooked little finger or a crooked little toe. This was a means of identity when they were very small, or so my mother said when I questioned my own ’disfigurement’. My maternal Grandmother told me that this crookedness was present in her own family too, and that instead of being embarrassed about it, I should embrace the fact that my descendants had passed this unique feature onto me. (She was probably fibbing, but as a small child I believed her and grew to like my alleged ancestral difference.)

I will treasure these recently found photos that were discovered amongst my mother’s possessions, and although my own adult children have grown up in an age of disposable digital images, I will encourage them to appreciate this photographic hoard as being precious and part of their own family history, albeit without the mutant crookedness so far…..

Destiny can be about gazing backwards and using history to help us move forward….

Dismantling a life…..

Since the recent passing of my mother I have been living in a kind of limbo, a half-way house, a place somehow in between life and death.

When she was dying there were lots of people around providing loving emotional support, and they were also present for a week or two afterwards. However when the funeral was over and ‘the circus pulled out of town’ I was left in a place of sadness and loneliness. I have no order to focus on, as all the routines that were associated with my mother’s care have ended with her death. I feel adrift without direction. There is a vacuum that is unfamiliar.

Her home is going to be sold, and as part of the preparations for sale it has to be cleared out. Over the past week my siblings and I have undertaken this task. My mother lived in this house for over fifty years. It is modest and small and she loved it. She had wonderful neighbours and friends and always felt safe here.

I believe that going through the personal belongings of someone else is similar to reading their diary. Every life is a story, and while we may not all write about it, our lives are reflected in the things that we surround ourselves with. We all accumulate ‘stuff’ throughout our lifetimes, and in her fifty plus years in that house my mother accumulated a lot. Every room had cupboards and drawers that were full, and everything that she had tucked away out of sight was dragged into the open in the past few days. Decisions were made about keeping it, discarding it, or donating it to a local charity shop.

Unearthing her old clothes from the back of wardrobes were physical reminders of the life that she lived. Finding old photographs with captured smiling faces gave us a sense of history that stretched back to a time before I was born. Some of the photographs were previously unseen, and they were pored over and studied, as names were considered, matched to faces, and dates and places were agreed upon.

Reading through old letters and cards from many years ago added an unknown dimension to the woman who was my mother. We also found receipts written in Spanish from a Bullfight in Barcelona where she went on honeymoon almost sixty years previously. Imagining her as a carefree young woman experiencing all the drama of life and death in a ring, in a country that was so foreign and exotic back in the 1950’s brings added colour to her life. Sorting through a selection of clothes that she wore in ‘Stage Shows’ in the local parish also reminded me that she loved dressing up and singing when I was a child, and that she sang in the house to records that she played on her old fashioned radiogram all the time.

Discarding items like these was like throwing away her life. I was unprepared for the sadness that would engulf me like waves during this clearout.

Room by room, drawer by drawer her life is being dismantled.

The precious things that she gathered over her lifetime and that held meaning for her are all going to different places. Some will be treasured and kept, while others are unwanted and will be placed out for collection. It was tough making decisions, and I believe that secretly we all felt that if we held on to her ‘stuff’ we could somehow keep her and her life intact. Impossible I know.

As we sorted through her (mostly) costume jewellery, I picked out items that I remembered her wearing when I was a child. They are valueless in monetary terms but are completely priceless to me. As I put them in boxes to bring home with me, I realised that I will probably never wear them, but that I will take them out from time to time to see them sparkle just like she did when she was wearing them.

When this task is finally over and my mother’s house is cleared, the memorabilia of her lifetime will be gone. Some of it will live on in other people’s lives and houses, and the rest of it will simply disappear. In sifting through her belongings I have been privileged to see into some of the private pages of her life, and having been allowed a glimpse into her past I believe that I have also gotten to know her a little better.

‘Goodbye Mam’……I feel like I am letting her go again and it’s not getting any easier.