I finally realized I was moving from my parents’ house after thirty years
of living with them, I knew I had to take three treasured photographs
with me—security blankets that captured the essence of the supple love
ties interlacing my life. I planned to have each one enlarged and color-copied
because mom would never part with the originals. So that she would not
fret about the possibility of my losing them, I decided to sneak them
out of a well-worn family photo album—full of pictures, thousands and
thousands of words.
In the first one, I am sitting on the couch with my legs extended toward an invisible other end. An inadvertent Afro-puff sits at the top of my head. I am barefooted, casually thumbing through pictures of a book so large that it could easily have been used for a blanket. Some kind adult must have gotten it for me. I am grinning confidently at my favorite photographer, my father, even though I am dressed in my pajamas. I hear he could always get a grin out of me. In fact, he still can just because he is my dad, a man of genuine warmth and selfless deeds. Perhaps he turned on the lamp for me or gave me the glass of water with no ice (always my preference) on the table just behind me. He made my life simple. Everything is in black and white. Today everything is in color—lights, camera, action. Always on the move. This picture reminds me to relax and allow time for peaceful pampering or glossy appreciation, to watch the sunrise at Galveston Bay as I sometimes do, to imitate the seagulls as they flutter into new beginnings or glide through freedom in motion.
In the second photograph, “Roy and Barbara” are smiling and embracing each other on a snowy afternoon in a very unlikely place: Houston, TX; and during a rare, timeless moment: no children are around. (The cozy couple had at least eight at the time.) The frost-covered rooftops of wood-framed houses appear in the background, Bing-Crosby-like. Telephone lines connect one neighbor’s house to another. The streets are still covered with this rare icy stuff. The only part of the ground that lies bare is the sidewalk leading to the front of our first house. Dad and mom are standing to the right of their wood-framed dwelling although it does not appear in the picture. The children must be inside. Yes, the sun is out, and the sky overhead is dusty blue, but it is still cold. The chill offers a warm pretext for a hug, one whose ever-expanding embrace has always been roomy enough for nine, yet intimate enough for two or three—the two of them and me.
In the third picture, I am planted in the middle of mom’s lap as she sits on a cherry wood piano bench with her back to the piano, situated in front of a bright blue wall. A centered picture hangs above the piano; just below a vase of flowers brightens the moment. Even though I appear to be holding my own, a closer look reveals that mom is providing me with back support, just as she always does when I need her quiet strength. Her hands, despite their feminine pose, have secured my diapered legs in strong yet graceful grip. She and I are really dressed up, Easter-like, each of us in white. Black is the accent color for both of us. My thick, dark hair peeps from underneath a frilly bonnet. My mom’s soft curls blend in with a fancy black hat. I am modeling white high-tops and mom, black pumps with heels just high enough to display her shapely honey-brown legs ever so elegantly crossed. Looking straight at the camera, I grin widely, although I have no teeth. Mom does of course. Her smile is brilliant, yet she looks away from the camera coy-like, perhaps to avoid the admiring gaze of her tall handsome photographer—“Roy” to her, and “dad” to me.
Whenever I look at these three photographs, I feel happy and sure. I always have for as long as I can remember. I am certain I always will. The security and love captured in them grant me the grace and confidence to make life a fulfilling wonder as opposed to an aimless wander. Above all, the tenderness they communicate reminds me that enduring love requires hugging when life is cold. No matter what befalls, contentment is the shelter to seek, the kind born of gratitude for the simple things in life: a well-worn couch, a good book, a fresh glass of water, an embrace, and a smile. None of these ever grows old, especially when framed in love.
personal essay writing. She is an assistant professor of History at Texas
Southern University in Houston, where she teaches African American
and American History. Her current research focuses on African American
Pentecostalism in the Southwest. This article is used by permission of
Copyright © 1997 by Karen Kossie-Chernyshev. All Rights Reserved.