Everything I knew about my birth mother’s life was based on what I had learned in a two-week whirlwind of document discoveries and long distance conversations with newly found relatives.
I was hungry to know what the woman, who died 30 years ago this month, looked like. For days I waited anxiously for the mail carrier to show up with a packet of vintage photographs.
“Your mother’s pictures are here,” my husband, Tom, announced after picking up the mail one day last week. I ran upstairs from my basement office.
Tom handed me a thick envelope. I started to cry.
Nobody’s life story is complete without photos. Inside the envelope, the faded pictures, dating back to the 1970s, show a woman with black hair and dark eyes. She’s rather slender for someone who had given birth to five children. Lillian alternately looks happy, haggard, tired and bored in photos showing her with her husband, surrounded by his family, with her sons and daughter.
The nicest photo, probably taken by a professional photographer, shows my mother looking attractive and chic in a sleeveless black and white dress, a curl of black hair on her pale forehead, standing near her husband who’s wearing a suit jacket and tie. Looks like they were at a party. Maybe their wedding day?
Another one of my favorites shows my mother standing alone in front of a lake, holding three large fish in both hands. She looks happy.
Lillian did a lot of living in her 48 years. She even became a grandmother, which is mind-boggling to me. Her granddaughter told me about the happy times she had with my mother, who took her fishing. Lillian skinned and filleted their catch of the day.
The photos flesh out Lillian’s story for me. It wasn’t all tragic, which is the impression I came away with from early conversations with her family members. Looking at the photos, I can see she had some ordinary, even fun moments. I am relieved.
Wife, mother, awesome cook. Hard-working waitress, drinker, angler. My mother wore a lot of hats. I will always treasure the photos that bring her to life in my imagination.