watching life go by

I’ve spent the last five years feeling that I’m watching my life go by. That’s how long I’ve been caregiver for my mom.
The other day, I sat with her while we watched four hours of old family 8mm movies that are now on videotape — from my uncles going off to fight WWII to b!X first bath. As my mom — now understandably more interested in the past than the future — cried through the whole thing, I found myself drawn to the sensory details that the images in old movies stirred in my lazy brain….
…the itch of the wool hat that I hated wearing as a toddler….the feel and smell of my mother’s 1940s skunk coat as I buried my face in its softness….the smell of the clean starched pinafore that my mother dressed me in after my bath on pre-teen summer weekends….the stiff but silky faille of the burgundy dress I wore on my first date to a school dance (a fix-up with the son of one of my mother’s friends….the rib-crushing strapless long-line bra under by high school prom dress….the sun in my eyes and making me sweat under the graduation gown as I posed with my college diploma…
I’m always smiling in those early movie years, sitting at the birthday tables and around Christmas trees with the family that seems more like a tribe. Dozens of cousins, aunts and uncles by birth and by appointment. Everyone is always singing. The men are always toasting the camera and downing shot glasses full whiskey. The women look at the camera and wave and smile. We cousins get in line to get our Christmas one dollar bills from our grandfather. Pleasantville.
Then suddenly there are scenes that I don’t remember ever being in — the times I went home from college for family events. My grandparents 50th anniversary — there I am, still part of the tribe. But I don’t remember. My heart and mind were elsewhere. And I’m no longer smiling.
There is no tribe any more — those generations of aunts and uncles by birth and appointment. Only my mother is left, watching her life go by.

the gathered tribe pre-1940


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