My father wears a bow tie and a blond crew cut. He grins at the camera. He is ten years old in 1957 Woodland Hills, California.
I picture my grandmother behind the camera. She was regal. She was flawed.
My father grins at her. He loved her so much.
I would look at this photograph growing up, seeing my sister’s eyes shaped in his young face, my brothers smile in his shy grin. I loved the little boy-dad.
Last Saturday, my cousin’s five-year-old son walked down the aisle at his parents’ wedding. He walked straight, head up, tightly gripping the ring pillow, tuxedo bow tie straight.
It was my father’s photograph come to life.
My cousin’s eyes crinkled small when she smiled at her son. She looks like my grandmother. She looked beautiful in her wedding dress.
My uncle walked my cousin down the aisle. I grinned. My dad will walk my sister down her aisle soon. I cried.
My aunt, my beautiful aunt saved my uncle from himself. My uncle calls her his soul mate, quit his job to spend as much of his life with her. She has Parkinson’s. Slowly, slowly, her body slips away from her. Her mind is there, all there. She remembers everything, my uncle tells me. But she shakes. She trembles. She can hardly stand. She has trouble speaking. Her mind ranges far and wide. Her body traps her in a wheelchair. My beautiful aunt.
My cousin, so shy, so sweet, is married now. When I was 7 and she 3, we gamboled over her farm. Her peeking from behind my aunt at her strange cousins. Me so jealous that she had horses to ride and chickens to feed.
Her brothers are handsome men. Blue-eyed, tall men. Two of them have sons of their own. All this family. All my family. The sons do not know who I am. But they grinned up at me, traces of me in their smiles.
When I had to leave early to catch a train, my aunt, mothering me, refused to let me go alone. My uncle must walk me, she called out, stiltingly. I took the father away from the bride, and he is so much like my own father when he took my arm in his. We walked down a street, and over a bridge. He talked to me of finding God, how happy he is studying the bible. He talks so much more than his younger brother, my father ever would. My father wakes every morning at five to study his bible. But he rarely speaks of it. I’ll wake some nights when I’m visiting home. I’ll sneak out for a glass of milk, and find my father starting his day with his God. He doesn’t talk about it much, though.
My uncle preaches at a church in Virginia. He told me to come hear him preach soon. The train came. He kissed my cheek. He told me he’d sing me gospels when I come. I jumped on the step. My uncle couldn’t wait for me to visit. My uncle started singing the gospels right then and there. I stand on the step. The train conductor pulled out a harmonica and started playing. The conductor played. My uncle sang. I wanted to cry and I wanted to laugh. The conductor hopped on board and the train rolled out of the station.