On one of the snowy afternoons last week, I rummaged through photo albums and piles of old photographs to gather pieces of my family for a collage frame I had just purchased from the small camera shop up in Chestnut Hill. I spread out all the pictures around me while seated on the carpet in my study, and felt as if my life of 64 years and before were visiting me in my home. I laughed at this one and cried at another, snipped and tucked each carefully chosen photograph into place, and then raised it up for me to see.
It all started recently while I was visiting the family in Israel. For, one day I discovered on my sister's wall a picture that had long ago hung in my mother's little sitting room, where she used to keep her books and records, and where I would often sleep when visiting her from Jerusalem, first as a student, and then from Ramat Hasharon, where I lived before emigrating to America. I loved that room. It faced a small front porch and a view of wisteria growing wild over the roof of the garage. It was small and snug and felt full of literature and music. When I was in my early twenties living in Manchester, I sent my mother a photograph of me pregnant with my son. She said it reminded her of a Van Eyck painting, The Arnolfini Wedding. And so, as soon as I could find one I sent her a postcard of the print. On my return from England with my new, young infant, I found she had combined the two pictures together in a silver frame. From then on, whenever I slept in that little room, I would look up and see me and Van Eyck together on the wall. It gave me such a good feeling, because I wasn't used to her acknowledging me very often. As I stared at the picture on my sister's wall in her little room she calls her "Rogues Gallery," many memories, which I had long forgotten, came flooding back.
I was amazed at how easily I had forgotten so many things. As soon as I returned from Israel, I decided to recreate that picture. I found an original photograph of me so young and hardly recognizable to me now, from back then pregnant with my son. I printed out a copy of the Van Eyck portrait, and placed the two pictures in a frame. After it was hung on my wall, I stood and stared at it for a long, long time allowing memories to wash over me.
And then, there I was, as if in a dream suddenly creating a gathering of pictures of my family. As I raised the completed, framed collage for me to see, I realized that I am a part of a rich history of family members, each complex, interesting, and unique. Indeed, I am tied to each and every one in important ways that combine to make me who I am today.
It had been a sad week for me visiting my 97-year-old mother, who lay sleeping most of the days I was there. It felt as if she was fading away, and there was nothing I could do to hold onto her. During the process of pulling together the collage, and allowing memories that I had tucked away these past twenty five years to return, I keenly felt her strength and presence in my life through the images and eyes of all those different and amazing people in the photographs.
Now, having created my own little "Rogues Gallery," I pass the pictures many times a day as I go up and down, to and from my study. Sometimes I stop and stare at them, and when I do, I find that I feel full and whole – tied to my family in ways I have not experienced in a long, long while.
A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Blinded by the sun