Picture This…


rtt-newThis post is part of the ongoing blog hop, over at The Waiting. All posts are reflections on earlier times, with an added weekly prompt. I’ve enjoyed participating, as often as I can. Check out the other wonderful stories, here.  This week’s prompt: Remember The Time… We Had Picture Day?

When I first saw this prompt, I wanted to write something funny and clever. No doubt, all those old school portraits virtually demand it. However, it struck me just as instantly that my school pictures inherently cause me to wince. They make my insides turn, and generally make me feel sad. Mostly, I feel sad because there are so few school pictures, of me. They just don’t exist, because my life was not picture perfect.

I’m sure I’ve belabored this point, or been evasive, or maudlin at times, but things just weren’t what they may have seemed from the outside. Frankly, I often wonder what it really looked like from the outside… to other adults, who knew what it should look like. Picture this: My mother, was a broken, abused little girl, who grew up to be a fractured, lost woman, who struggled through most of her 67 years. The duality of who she was haunts me, literally, and has for most of my life.  Just as easily as I can recall the fun-loving prankster; the classy, charmer; the cuddler, I can just as easily see the depressed; unstable; screamer, who made decisions throughout my life that left me reeling. The only portraits, or school pictures that are left, are the ones I stole away and tucked in my hidden places. There are not many of them.

Cringe. Image: movingservices.com

Cringe. Image: movingservices.com

Picture this: When we moved from California to Massachusetts, when I was nine years old, Mom couldn’t pay the Mayflower Van Lines bill, and they kept all of our (measly) possessions. No school pictures, for Kindergarten up to fourth grade—Poof! Gone, just like that. My toys, my clothes, anything we took with us when we dashed away from a life Mom was running from, was gone. I remember so vividly the weight of that settling on my young shoulders— it was all gone. I hated Mayflower for years, and years— to this day, I still react when I see one of their trucks. I hated them until I got old enough to realize who was really responsible. Then, for a long time, I was at a loss for who to hate.

sc05825e04(<– My Dad had been dead about 6 months when this was taken. I see my forced smile and wary eyes— Probably the plastic barrette and giant collars. See, humor)

Picture this: When my father was killed, a year later, it seemed very clear to ten-year-old-me, that if I was going to leave a trail, in the hope that someone would someday find me, I’d better start covering my own ass. When tangible evidence of your past is simply gone one day, you have some choices to make. I chose to keep whatever I could, and make damned sure there was proof of my existence. So, I began taking and hiding things— the birth of a hoarder. I tucked away whatever important papers, school pictures, memories, that I could, in my own hiding places, unbeknownst to Mom or anyone else. Lots of things fell through the cracks. School portraits were given out to friends and family, and the rest were lost in one of Mom’s many moves. What’s left, is what I took and kept.

Picture this: When I moved out, my junior year of high school, I carted it all with me. When I went to college, graduate school, and eventually moved in with my future husband, I carried whatever I could. Sadly, along the way more things got lost. I was a kid; my diligence could only take me so far; but, anything I have today, is because I thought it was important to record and preserve my past. Over time, no doubt, some lines have blurred as to what I should keep and what I should let go of. My office is a testament to that fact… along with the boxes of stuff in the basement, the boxes of mores stuff in the storage room, and the files and drawers full of other stuff. But, there are letters, photos, things that seemed important, because I held on for dear life to them.

sc0092cb8a(<– I was a very happy baby, and young child. I was surrounded by love, and felt it. This, my first portrait, was taken the day JFK was assassinated. Mom always remembered where she was, that day.)

Picture this: Over the years, I found baby pictures and other old photos in my grandmother’s home. I took them and tucked them away, too. I didn’t ask; I just took them; and, no one ever missed them or asked. As a young child, I remember my grandmother showing us home movies with my Dad in them— I was transfixed, to see him moving, talking, picking me up. To this day, I can hardly bear the idea that they probably ended up in a garbage bin.  A priceless treasure, gone because no one else appreciated its worth. When my grandmother died of Huntington’s years later, and no one wanted to really deal with all of her “stuff,” I was glad to have kept the things that mean the most to me now. As I got older, I sought photos of my father—there were none in my life, from ten (when he died) until I graduated from high school and sough them out. For years, it was as if he had not only died, but had never existed. Once I started finding those portraits of him, I treasured them, and kept them safe… proof that the father I loved was real.

sc05823f7d(<– 4th grade: I missed my Dad; our new life scared me, and my stuff was gone)

Let me paint the picture: So, I can’t help it. I want to move on; I want to be stronger about these things. God knows it’s been forty years! But the portraits I have remind me of the duality of my own life. The sad, broken little girl, who wanted so desperately to turn back time and fix it all, and the strong young woman who chose to treasure what remained, cling to it, and forge an independent, entirely different life from her mother’s. I have over-compensated with my own children, by taking thousands of photos, and saving every one. Blurry, keep it. Not the best image of my kid (crying, fussing, looking away, blinking), keep it. Doubles, keep them, both… one might get lost, and I’ll have the other. I put them in albums; I bought corny “school days” frames. I wanted my own kids to see that the images of them, over time, mattered. They are stored on the computer, they are tucked in boxes and albums. If that hypothetical fire were to ever happen (she wrote, as she touched wood), I would be dashing down three floors to grab the hard copies, and praying that this so called iCloud has me covered for the rest. If photos and files of things they’ve written/drawn/said, count for love, my kids will know that they are deeply cherished.

sc0092dd1f<– (“I’m graduating High School, I’m setting a new course, but man is it over-whelming!”)

As for me, I look at my old school photos, and the few baby photos I have, and I see the before and after. This is where I was happy, and felt so loved; this is where my Dad was gone, and I couldn’t figure any of it out. This is where I was on my own, going to see colleges by myself, and trying to figure out my life, solo. This is months after he died; I look so confused. I was.  Add to his already mixed emotional bag, there was how I saw myself. Having been born with bright red hair, and having to endure the endless “carrot top,” “red,” and other hair references, that started day one, I never felt particularly pretty. Getting my picture taken was not something I looked forward to. I rarely thought my pictures were good, and always saw ways that someone else looked better. To this day, I still prefer to be behind the camera (something I’m very good at), than in front of it.

946781_10151369174911300_69013970_n<– I don’t actually wear glasses, but I think they make me look wiser. I love this picture, taken on my 50th birthday, because it’s playful and there are only good memories attached to it. That makes it a keeper.

Today, I am really beginning to make peace with old hurt, and impossible dreams. I’m even tackling the collections and clutter, choosing to weed out the truly important from the desperate-to-keep-it-all.  I readily admit, it’s not easy; but, each time I put something in the garbage, or give it away, I feel a little lighter, a little freer, and that helps. Despite how some of my words can be taken, I understand my mother’s journey and feel enormous empathy for the hard life she lived. It doesn’t change that she, in turn, made my childhood a lot harder as well— but I don’t feel the anger I once I felt. It’s good to let that go. When my kids look at their school portraits, I hope they see something simpler: first, second, third, etc grade and the inevitably funny fashions and styles that those photos reflect. And only that. That, and the fact that their mother kept it all safe for them.

About Dawn Quyle Landau

Mother, Writer, treasure hunter, aging red head, and sushi lover. This is my view on life, "Straight up, with a twist––" because life is too short to be subtle! Featured blogger for Huffington Post, and followed on Twitter by LeBron James– for reasons beyond my comprehension.
This entry was posted in Aging, Awareness, Blog, Blogging, Honest observations on many things, Life, Musings, My world, Parenting, Tales From the Motherland, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

43 Responses to Picture This…

  1. Steve says:

    I love the pix. Very dreamy early 80s. Shot.

    Like

  2. Katalina4 says:

    Wow. Great story Dawn, even if it’s not all happy or funny, I loved it, feel like I know you better now, hearing a full arc from you as a child to you hoarding, or ahem, saving your own kids’ stuff. (I do the same, but have a different story – go figger).

    Like

  3. Le Clown says:

    Dawn,
    Love this post, and anything about nostalgia. You know I hold great importance to these themes on A Clown on Fire. Digging into memories around music, or pics, or old stories do bring magnificent™ posts out. This reminds me of the A Light Fare post we did a few months back. Too much fun to look at all these pictures of yesteryear. Great job, Dawn! And thank you for driving me this way tonight.
    Le Clown

    Like

    • You’re welcome Le Clown™, and shit! I had to actually approve your comment, which says it may be a first. I think I’ve left hundreds for you, on the sites you note here. I love reading your nostalgia pieces… the music ones have been particularly good. I think you and I reflect back on things, in a similar way. You just do it with a lot more panache! Thanks for taking the time; it means a lot and is much appreciated!

      Like

      • Le Clown says:

        Dawn,
        You do reflect on the past with honesty and love, that is why your posts have appeal, to me. As for approving, it’s because i added a link, simply… A link to where? Muahahahaha!!!
        Le Clown

        Like

  4. The Waiting says:

    Dawn, I am left speechless after reading this post. Absolutely beautiful with so much depth. The way you write about your childhood and adolescence is heartrending and delicious. You do your family such an honor by keeping their memory alive in your writing.

    Like

    • Wow. Thanks so much Emily. I am a huge fan of your writing, so this wonderful comment means that much more. Sadly, my family does not agree, and several of them have chosen not to read my posts. Or anything I write, for that matter. Remembering things and removing the sparkle, does not please everyone. That said, I am true to my childhood, my memories, and the people I love(d)… the good, the bad, and the complicated. Thanks again for the wonderful feedback; makes my night!

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  5. Lyn Keiran Smith says:

    Being the 5th of 6 children I have alway lamented the fact that there are only a few pic of me. I do however have a few of the school pictures, not very well done. I remember seeing your yearbook photo and thinking that it captured you very well..the compassion , intelligence and beauty that we all saw were evident. I too have saved all the pictures ( way to many and yes the blurry ones to) of my girls. Over the last few years I have placed them in albums and picture boxes for them to take with them on their lives journeys. I have also learned to let go of the out of focus ones… pictures as well as memories. Be proud Dawn.xo

    Like

    • Thanks Lyn. It’s so nice of you to take the time to read, and comment on my work. It’s also nice of you to comment on the h.s. portrait… I wasn’t sure what people saw in me back then; I felt so on the fringe of everything! As we all get older, it shifts and changes, in the best of ways. 🙂 I will be doing the same with my photos soon, too! Thanks!

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  6. Carrie Rubin says:

    I suspect in this day and age of social media, Mayflower Van Lines would not get away with such a mean-spirited act. People would be all over them. Photographs confiscated? Really? That’s ridiculous and heart-breaking.

    Like

    • No, they probably wouldn’t… but then, I’m sure there are still customers that somehow try to get away with not paying. It wasn’t entirely their fault. Who knows what they did with all of our stuff; it wasn’t worth much, monetarily… but to me, as a kid, it was the end of the world. Thanks for taking the time to read and respond.

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  7. unfetteredbs says:

    I really enjoyed this post. I confess, I have way too many triplicate pictures of my children tucked away in multiple bins.
    It’s startling to look at ourselves and reflect back as to what was going on behind our eyes.

    Like

    • I think having too many pictures isn’t the worst thing… and seeing what was going on behind our eyes, gets easier and easier as I get older. Wish it worked the other way! Thanks for stopping by, and taking the time to share some feedback!

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  8. Hi Dawn, thanks for sharing some about your father with us…you were much younger than I when our fathers died but mine is sorely missed as well. And…I’ve hoarded my kids drawings, school things a bit much to the despair of my daughters…now with the estrangement from my son every tiny evidence of him in my life is of utmost importance and hidden away like the little girl you kept things 🙂 I get it. But I also need to do a cull for my own benefit!!

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  9. Great photos and love how they mark the time. In the world of everything digital, we may “save” everything but it’s not the same as looking at an album or through a box of old photos.

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    • Lisa, couldn’t agree with you more! I miss having the photos in my hand; it’s so much better! However, I don’t miss all the boxes and partially done albums that fill my cabinets! I try and make iBooks of the really special times.. it’s nice to have them. Thanks for stopping by.

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  10. This is a deep piece–and very well put together–and i hope that doesn’t sound condescending or pretentious–just kept thinking how much it opened me up, and how it opened up so much within–really in awe and admiration at how reflective and plumbing of the depths you go—also, like how you segued into ‘painting the picture’ and the embers that stoked the flames of aspiration and transformation. Thank you for guiding me towards your words.

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    • Thanks Jdawg… I appreciate you taking the time to read it and give feedback. In reading yours daily, I often want to send you this way, to share thoughts… so, thanks for making the effort. For the record, I think you do plenty of “plumbing,” as well.

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  11. Cathy Ulrich says:

    Dawn,
    Your writing is beautiful and the story heartbreaking, but the wonderful woman you are now, shows the resilience of the human spirit and I’m glad you have some of those photos still in your possession. I, too, find myself thinking about my past when I look at those school pictures. Perhaps one day, I’ll share my own history – it takes bravery, I guess. But I’m glad to be where I am now, and maybe I wouldn’t be the person I am now, had I not had that past. Thanks for the inspiration!
    Cathy

    Like

    • Cathy, thanks for the support and feedback! No doubt, I would not be the person I am today, without all that. Not sure if I would trade it, or do it differently… the journey has been a challenging one, all the way, but fulfilling as well. I hope you do share your story one day. If you write it, I will read. 😉

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  12. Wow. And I just wrote about my bowl cut. But seriously, this was an amazing piece…unexpected, honest, introspective…perfect. I felt a sadness reading about the childhood you lived through, but this piece only left me with a hopeful uplifting, and that must be thanks to your own resilience. And the ending. The ending was everything. I think so much about keeping so many memories of childhood alive and safe for my own children. Thank you for joining our linkup this week. I hope you do it again!

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  13. mamaheidi60 says:

    Dawn I just love to read your blog. Been out of it for a few weeks, so catching up. Your writing is just so open, which is very much YOU! I connect so easily to what you write, whether or not it is something I personally identify with. I’m appreciate how your writing sends me into my own reflections. I particularly am thinking about how much I too wondered what people saw in my childhood. Living a life at home, behind closed doors, and a public life and wondering why no one intervened, why no one questioned what was going on. Fortunately for me, the associate minister in our high school youth group reached out. I don’t know if he ever knew what was going on, but he obviously saw that I needed help and opened doors for me to gain confidence in myself. He encouraged me to seek out opportunities to try out new behaviors. I saw him at a reunion a few years back (he’s now 85) and was able to thank him for being there for me all those years ago.

    A few years back my mother made a comment about what I was like in high school that was so out of touch and totally wrong that at first I reacted wtih offense. Then, I sat with it and and took it as confirmation that I wasn’t crazy. That that WAS her perception and that was who she was, how she saw me and NOT who I was. I don’t like any of my school pictures except my senior picture which was one that I had control over – the clothing, the pose, everything.

    Keep writing your great pieces and delving into your life. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

    • Heidi, your feedback always lifts me up, and means so much. I think very few people really saw what was happening for me and my sibs. Who knows… there was one couple, who I babysat for, who made all the difference for sure! If it weren’t for them, I’m not sure where I would have gone. Thanks for sharing your some of your journey, Heidi. I’m so glad we both made our way out, and found ourselves in the same place. Thanks for all the encouragement!

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  14. Thank you for sharing a bit of your story with us.What is it about damaged mothers raising daughters and damaging them? My story as well, similar, but different. I, too, look at pictures and think of what was going on when they were taken. Was Mom diagnosed yet? Oh, in that photo she was pretty manic. And a lot of other stuff. Had to smile at your school picture with the plastic barrette. I remember those. And yes, I had some, too. I remember looking at my fourth grade picture, seeing the totally uneven braids that I did myself. Mom never did my hair in the morning before school. Not even for picture day.

    And I also remember taking a few things of Mom’s when she was very manic and was selling anything she had that was of any value. I took a few pieces of jewelry that I treasured, and she never missed them. Ironic, just before she died, she had thought that her wedding/ engagement ring was stolen when she was in a mental hospital. She even filed a report with our local police, and made an insurance claim on it. After she died, I was the only one of us 3 kids to go home and take care of things. (My older brother could have gone, but he didn’t see the need. He didn’t understand that someone of the family needed to deal with Mom’s body and deal with the funeral home, and pick up the suicide note from the police station, in person. And to find the cats new homes. etc. He’s a moron- very dense.) One of the first things I did was to look around for her ring. I found it in the back of her top dresser drawer, where she kept things other than clothing. I took it and never told my brothers. My older brother would have done something stupid about it. He will never know.

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    • It sounds like you were taking care of yourself, in being on top of your mom’s things. It’s a tricky thing with your brothers in the mix, but then life is very complicated. I hope the ring brings you some closure and peace, remembering your mother. We can only work on ourselves… and hopefully as we reflect on our broken childhood, find some ability to let it go. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  15. nmark says:

    Dawn, thank you for not going “funny and clever” with the prompt. Your writing and memories on this one really touched me.

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  16. It’s hard when pictures bring up painful memories. I have plenty that do. I had a rough childhood too and I guard my old photos because they’re proof that I actually existed. Like you, I want my kids to see old photos differently. I don’t want them to remember burdens, just happy memories. This was a beautiful, heartfelt post!

    Like

    • Thanks Karen. Thanks for taking the time to read my post, and thanks in particular for sharing such a personal response. I appreciate your time and thought. I think when you grow up in a rough childhood, you either give up and repeat that, or you are determined to change it. I’m glad we both have chosen the latter. Kind feedback!

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  17. I really appreciated this different perspective on the prompt, thanks for sharing!

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  18. soapsuds says:

    This piece touches me deeply and makes me wish I could have done more for you.
    CJM

    Like

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