On the River. This is a picture of Mom and Dad standin’ with Uncle Alfred by the Ohio in 1924, the Elwood W. Lane anchored in the river behind. Dad holds Fanny on his left hip and Mom holds Bessie on her right hip. The girls’re wearin’ matchin’ flowered dresses with white collars. Mom’s pregnant with me—her fifth—and already gaunt. No one’s smilin’.
Doing What’s Necessary. And here I am at Sherm’s Grain Elevator in Lockville, baby Judy on my hip, Mary standin’ in front of me suckin’ her thumb. Three skinny, towheaded little things. We’d walked down to take Dad’s lunch pail to him. Sherm had a new Kodak and he snapped the picture. I’m wearin’ a black cardigan and a print dress made from flour sacking. That dress is white with red flowers. Lena, Fannie, and Bessie had it before me, and when the collar and cuffs wore out, Mom cut off the sleeves above the elbow, took off the collar, and added a red ruffle. I always hated that dress.
Passages. Elwood and me went to West Virginia to get married. Bessie—my least favorite sister—went to chaperone and stand up with me. I wore a blue suit and hat and carried lilies of the valley. That suit brought out the blue in my eyes and showed off my figure. I was jist nineteen, but my hair was already gettin’ darker. There ain’t no pictures, though. If I had a wedding picture, I’d’ve put it out alongside my graduation picture—if I had a graduation picture. Dad made me stop school at sixteen and go to work.
Beautiful Wife. I wasn’t always thin and worn-down. Look at when I was twenty. Elwood sent me this picture when he was stationed in Texas in ’45. He went to this photographer there who took pictures of soldiers in their uniforms for the folks back home. He told Elwood to set sideways to the camera, light a cigarette, and put his elbow on the table. That photographer used a picture I’d had taken when Elwood was drafted—an eight-by-ten, me wearin’ a brown dress and pearls—the first studio picture I ever had made—tinted and everything—and put my face in the cloud of cigarette smoke, as if Elwood was thinkin’ of me. All the guys in his unit said he had a beautiful wife. I kept that picture on the dresser for twenty-six years. But not anymore. Not since Elwood walked out.
Mother and Daughter. This is the only picture I have of me and Jeannie when she was a baby. I took it at one of those booths at Woolworth’s. It’s too little to frame or anything, but I carried it in my pocketbook for years, till I started carryin’ her school pictures. She was born ten months to the day after we got married. I kind of wished it would’ve been longer, but it wasn’t. Elwood was proud as a peacock. He picked the name Jean—named her after an old girlfriend just because he liked the sound of it. Now she tells me the name Jean is related to John. John’s his first name, but he’s always gone by Elwood. She always was a daddy’s girl. We had dozens of pictures of him and the baby, and lots of ’em with his folks—like this one taken in ’45: him with Mommy an’ Granny Butcher, Jeannie on Granny Butcher’s knee, four generations. There ain’t no pictures of Jeannie with my folks till she was fifteen or so. Too many kids an’ grandkids to keep up I guess.
Birthday Celebration. Here I’m holdin’ my birthday cake—my thirtieth birthday—that brown and green and white striped top showin’ how skinny I was then, my bony arms stickin’ out. I’d been through three miscarriages in two years and then a hysterectomy, but Elwood was pushin’ to adopt a son. Why weren’t our two beautiful daughters enough? Nobody ever baked a birthday cake for me, not in all the twenty-nine years before, and they didn’t start at thirty. I made it myself. I’m not even lookin’ at the camera. Why would I put out that picture? I look so tired.
Face Off. Now, here, at my Jeannie’s wedding reception—it was her second wedding—I looked real good. I had my hair done just like hers and her matron of honor’s, pulled straight back, with a cluster of curls at the crown. All her friends and the people she worked with—I’d never met any of them before—they all said I looked more like her sister than her mother. But if I put this picture out, it’d just make me think about the bad times. Elwood and his new wife was at the wedding. That was the first time I ever saw her. She’s ten years younger than me. Funny how much she looks like that picture Elwood had in Texas.
Recovery. I never wanted to put out pictures of Virg and me. I needed him—the good Lord knows I needed him—all those years after Elwood walked out. I needed to feel loved. He wanted to marry me, but I said “No.” I didn’t love him—never would love him. He took me to Florida, though, the first time I ever went. Here I am, standin’ on a stone wall, swipin’ oranges from somebody’s yard.
Virg took this picture, too, of me with Joe and Bert. Joe put that blond wig on as a joke and then he put his arms around Bert and me, so I cuddled up and stroked his chin for the camera. But there’s beer bottles and highball glasses all over the table in front of us. I couldn’t ever put that picture out. Besides, you can see I wasn’t happy.
Bert took this one—Virg and Joe and me and wine glasses. Settin’ on Virg’s knee, my back to him, with one hand back to stroke his head—that ain’t so bad. And havin’ my other arm around Joe—that’s all right, too. But my eyes aren’t quite focused. And Virg has both hands on my breasts. That was a bad bunch of years, the ’70s. Thanks to God, I’m past all that now.
Cleaning House. Those pictures’ll never set on top of the TV or the dresser or the end table. Some of ’em, I don’t want to look at. Others I don’t want anyone else to see. Even now, after all these years, lookin’ at them is like pokin’ a sore tooth with my tongue. Maybe I should throw out the lot of ’em. But I won’t. Throwin’ them away would be like throwin’ away part of who I am. I’ll just leave ’em in the shoebox under the bed.
Vivian Lawry writes literary fiction, mysteries, memoir, and magical realism. Her work appears in more than fifty literary magazines and anthologies as well as three books. Read more of Vivian’s work and life at vivianlawry.com.
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