I’ve been going through my mother’s old photographs. Each day I grab a handful to sort through and scan, many of which I have never seen before.
Some I will keep, some will be sent on to someone else in the family, and some will be tossed.
This one of my mother is a keeper.
It offers a glimpse of her I hadn’t seen before – a little girl who liked to sit in rivers. It resonated immediately.
I remember getting into trouble when Eric Holzman and I – both just 6 or 7 at the time – played in a stream all afternoon while our parents were having a lawn party. When we eventually presented ourselves to the guests, naked except for knickers and completely slathered in mud, my mother was not amused.
Growing up, I often felt she was rather strict with me, more strict than she was with my older brother and sister. She seemed to be more afraid for me than she was for the others.
Which is odd, because in some ways, I had a lot of freedoms. By age nine, I walked myself a mile to school along the river and through the streets of London. At eleven, I was riding buses and trains by myself across the city to a different school. Seven years later, I was going to college in a different country. At nineteen, I moved to Paris for the summer to be a nanny. Those freedoms she encouraged and never seemed to think twice about.
She was a world traveler but I am more open-minded than she was, and even more adventurous. In retrospect, I think it was my free and creative spirit that worried her.
Times changed. She was the kind of girl who married her college sweetheart and I was a child of the sixties. She grew up during the Great Depression and World War II. I came of age during Woodstock, Haight Ashbury, and Vietnam protests. Over the years, we knocked heads many times over many things – and her criticisms always seemed to highlight the ways in which we were two very different people. Infuriating as they could be, however, and whether or not I cared to admit it, I knew these criticisms were rooted in her desire to protect me – both from others and from myself. In retrospect, I wonder if she was scared – and perhaps just a little bit intrigued by – the freedoms of my era.
Which brings me back to the photograph above. What I most like about it, is that it is a foreshadowing of the girl this little girl would eventually give birth to – one who also likes to sit in rivers. Even after her death, it weaves us one small connection closer.
The river still runs through us.
photograph of me by Sammy Fong.