Thursday, January 22, 2009


It had turned a burned brownish color, like a dying leaf. It was folded into an eighth, not symmetrically, but haphazardly, as if by a child's hands. Tattered along the edges, tearing here and there.

He pulls it out of the box with his brown spotted hands and says, "What is this?"

He unfolds it into a quarter, checks the date - June 5, 1956 - skims the headlines on that page, flips it to the other side, skims some more, unfolds it into half, and tosses it aside.

"Who knows why I saved that."

He continues rummaging through the box, pulling out a few photographs. There is one of them as they peer out the side window of a Cadillac, he in a tuxedo, she in a veil, their skins rosy and taut, betraying none of the sagging and wrinkles to come. He pulls out another, of his parents posing in front of their Pennsylvania home, the father proud and tall in his plaid pants and short sleeved t-shirt, the mother with her arm through his, hair tucked away under a scarf. Then comes a photo of Tuffy, the mutt that is now long gone, and a stack of report cards from Jeff's grade school with his teacher's comments of his progress in perfect handwriting.

I'm curious, so I pick up the folded newspaper page once again. I unfold it cautiously, as if my fingers may stain and damage this piece of history, peruse the headlines quickly and flip it over. On the other side is a photo spread, of women adorned in tiaras, banners draped across their chests, holding bouquets of roses and wands, beaming smiles all around. I zero in on the captions below and scan the names.

"Hey, Jeff, isn't that your mom?"

Jeff's dad squints his eyes and zooms in.

"Yup, that's her," he says. "That was the year before I met her."

There she stands, tiara adorned, in a strapless, lace evening gown. Underneath is her name and title "Ms. Montgomery County."

"Jeff, did you know your mom was in a beauty pageant?"

He shrugs back a "who knew?"

We both lean over to look at her on the other end of the couch, tucked in a cardigan even in 80 degree weather, and she smiles as she dismisses it with her hand. "Oh, I did it just for the money. I probably wouldn't do it again."

We study the photos one by one. "Here she is again." "Look there she is in the biniki contest." I look at her, in the photo, then on the couch, then at the photo again. Here she sits, more than half a century later, still the same person, but no longer the same. Between the photo and her lie a marriage, two births, five relocations, and 19,220 days. And so much more that I don't know. I wonder what has become of those days, where they have gone. Whether they are shed, like flakes of dry skin, or if they build up to give us our gravitas and wrinkles. If she could shift them through a sieve, which ones would she salvage?

If only we could preserve these days like apricot preserve. And I think of my clutter of photos lying in a box and make plans to sort through them once we go home.

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