I’m pondering the end of summer. It’s a transition that can be hard on many of us, and I’ll write more about it in the next day or two, but in the meantime I wanted to post a few family pictures from summers in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
My grandmother is eighty-eight, and if you ask her she’ll tell you she’s doing great. She might even give a shimmy and a shake and ask if you think she’s still sexy though the question is rhetorical and there’s only one right answer. At eighty-eight you’re never what you used to be—not of body, mind, or spirit—but she still has a special sparkle, which I attribute to her stellar attitude. She’s always told me to “be my own boss” and “don’t let other people’s troubles get you down.” Her health advice is to eat a full size Hershey bar as often as possible (daily, for best results), get a good night sleep, and don’t worry too much. “Let that stuff roll right off your back,” she’s always said to me.
Maybe she has such a positive perspective on life not because her life has always been easy, but rather because it hasn’t. She dropped out of school in the eighth grade so she could look after her younger siblings while her mother went to work. Her father regularly disappeared on drinking and gambling binges and it wasn’t unusual for him to leave his family of six with no food or money. In more recent years she lost her three sisters and her husband in a four year span, and it would be unfair and untrue to say that the cumulative loss didn’t take a toll on her. These are not extraordinarily troubles or losses; they’re a part of life. And she knows that.
When I think of my Mimi I think of her singing, and I think of two songs in particular. The first one is, I think, her own creation. It has a lively tune and a coordinating dance and goes, “We’re gonna have a good time, we’re gonna celebrate!” (I think this song originates with my grandmother—perhaps at one point it started as a mantra—so if I’m wrong and you know the origin please let me know.) The other song is more melancholy, but the message is sweet. It’s a Nat King Cole song that starts out, “Smile though your heart is aching. Smile even though it’s breaking.” When she sings that song she likes to dance, and she’ll grab me and we’ll faux-waltz around the room; neither of us lead, we just look into each other’s eyes adoringly.
Sometimes life is a song and dance that comes naturally, and sometimes it takes more thought, effort, and coordination. Sometimes more than we have. But now onto the photos that remind me that even in hard times there are always some good times.
I love everything about this. The light. Her pose. The outfit!
Same outfit, different pose. Mimi on the porch of her mother’s bungalow in Rockaway, Queens.
My mother mimicking her mother’s pose.
My mother on her grandmother’s shoulders in Rockaway. Nanny was a tough bird and a true gem of a woman.
My grandparents at a lake. There’s something about the blur that I love.
Lounging in a Hammock and reading the newspaper on a bench. There’s nothing about these pictures that isn’t pure bliss. I love that contented smile on her, that “I’m reading” look on him.
Rockaway was their beach, and I love this sassy pose.
They didn’t always go to the beach, and sometimes stayed in the city. I found this picture in June when I was visiting and I asked my grandmother about it. “It’s Central Park,” she said, and when I asked for more detail she looked at it for awhile then said, “It’s nuns in the park.” I did not need to press her for more information; her memory is fuzzy on some of the past these days and as much as I wanted to know more I settled for “Nuns in the park.” What else is there to know, really? They were having a good time, they were celebrating.
Last Sunday my mother and her cousin took Mimi out to Rockaway for the afternoon. Here she is on the boardwalk:
I think she’s still pretty damn cute.