It is week two of Liz Lamoreux's Inner Excavate-along. In the second chapter we are encouraged to look at pictures from our past in an attempt to shed light upon the journey that brought us to this moment. She encourages us to look through old photographs choosing how far back we may wish to journey - last month, last year, or 10, 20, 30 years ago. Another suggestion is to look at old family photos of ancestors - to examine one's roots.
I admit, when I initially read this chapter I was resistant to these prompts. I have few photographs from my childhood. I cannot say if there are any pictures of me with my mother prior to my college graduation, something foreign to my existence now as so many of my pictures are of me with Cowgirl. Photos holding my entire family together in one moment rarer still.
I decided now is the time to tackle a few boxes labelled "family photos" which have sat in the guest room closet for almost 3 years now. When moving my mother cross-country, she actually told my husband to pitch the boxes. "They are just old pictures of family nobody would care about" she told him. Thankfully, he argued on my behalf and now I find myself holding journals written by my grandfather in 1918; my father's dog-tags and medals from WWII; an envelope filled with congratulatory cards for my birth;
and numerous photos spanning close to a hundred years of our family's history.
It was my mother's albums which drew me in. One book is filled with autographed pictures of servicemen - her many beaus - from her single days. There are a handful of pictures of her as a young girl. I am struck by this image of my mother as a teenager.
There is something in the way the sunlight almost obscures her, an uncertainty in her posture, a protectiveness as she holds her hands in loose fists, a solemness to her face - all these details familiar aspects of my own self and history. I too was a guarded child, hesitant, alone, but shielded by an inner conviction to move forward, to find my way out of what felt like a restrictive environment. Looking at this image, I can feel my inheritance of her will and resolve pulsing in my blood.
And in a flash, I recognize the spirit of my girl - the direct gaze, shoulders squared, standing firmly in her place and holding her ground. Brave but vulnerable, unsure but ready to forge ahead.
I sit amazed to behold the weaving together of such disparate threads into one coherent story. For if Cowgirl is the latest chapter, then these women (and the many invisible mothers, aunts, sisters and daughters) represent the prologue.
Below are the words I wrote after finding the above photograph. While I see the seeds of my own being within the lives of my grandmother (far left) and her aunt, I also see how Cowgirl's story is the logical and natural continuation of this spiritual bloodline. Blood may be thicker than water, but love flows beyond all boundaries of physical space and time. Who we are is so much vaster than anything we can imagine. Only our hearts can hold the immensity of it all.
I come from a long line of broken hearts
dreamers sustaining themselves with hardened crusts of hope,
blistered feet finding home upon dry, barren earth.
These women of stout ankles
solemn faces covering
the many disappointments -
lost children, lost families,
selves lost in the pain of abuse, disease, poverty, isolation -
I carry both the bitterness and the spiritedness of their blood within me.
I pull out the boxes of family photos
seeking clues about the girl I was
for I distrust these memories I have inherited:
quiet, shy, a good girl, good daughter, good student
I already know there is little here for me
I find my brother’s blue baby book
filled with cards, names and dates recorded
in my mother’s tidy script
and this family tree -
names of ancestors I never knew branching together to hold my brother
in his place, at the top
my finger traces the path from Ireland, Glasgow, Texas, Hoboken to him
blank blocks signifying images lacking,
faces lost, stories missing.
I realize I too have been a blank square,
unknown quantity to myself
“I’m whoever I choose to be”
my flippant response
but here I hold the evidence of this truth.
I came to this task
seeking to find myself within my family’s history
but what I uncover is
An abandonment of sorts.
But also a freedom
I can fill in the missing gaps
with new stories
dreams retrieved, mended and slipped on again.
Seed of my mother’s mother’s
Seed of my mother’s mother’s
watered by the blood of these women who
dared to survive,
dared to survive,
finding at long last
rich, welcoming soil.
Who I once was - or who I was lead to believe was me -
drifts out to sea
as who I am,
the woman I seek
waits patiently withinthis healing but whole heart.