By Carol Nadell
The delicate picture frame is almost as old as I am. It is made of real wood of a light gray tone perfectly suited to the muted shades of the formal portrait it once held.
That photo was taken more than 72 years ago, when I was not yet two years old. It is not really black and white, not really color, and not really sepia. Its hues are soft and soothing, just what must have been needed as the country emerged from the horrors of a long and brutal war.
The photo was part of a grouping, along with similar portraits of my older brother and sister, taken on the same day. They sat atop the piano in our living room for 20 years, until my mother, a widow at just 53, moved to a two-bedroom apartment.
The photos went with her and, perched on her dresser, I suspect they were a comfort to this still-young woman who found herself so unexpectedly alone. When two years later, she remarried and moved into her new husband’s house, the photos again found a prominent spot on her dresser.
A widow again 20 years later, my mother would eventually become a “snowbird,” dividing her time between an apartment in Massachusetts and another one in Florida.
And when she made the journey back and forth, she was always accompanied by those three photos in the soft grey frames. They became snowbirds too.
When she made her final move to a senior living facility at 89, she placed the photos on the credenza in her living room, along with those of the rest of the family, by that time including grandchildren and great grandchildren.
After my mother’s death, I took the old photo home with me. My husband had always loved that image of me – the profile with the turned-up nose and the soft curly hair. And, so, the photo moved from my mother’s credenza to my husband’s dresser, where it joined the smiling faces of his children and his long-deceased parents.
And after my husband’s death four years ago, that little girl with the turned-up nose continued to smile down on me, a reminder of the now-long arc of my own life.
The burgundy velvet backing of that soft gray frame became worn and discolored with age, but it still recalled an earlier time before everything was made of cardboard and manufactured in China. The tiny nails that attached the backing to the frame spoke of permanence: the frame would hold the photo intact forever.
But 70 plus years proved to be too much for the easel leg designed to hold the frame upright. It hung aimlessly, separated from the backing, and the frame only stayed erect when I leaned it against those on either side of it.
I kept telling myself that it would be too difficult to find a new frame that would accommodate the oddly-sized photo. But the truth is that I couldn’t imagine parting with that frame.
It was a link to my past, to that little girl with the pug nose and huge smile who had her whole life ahead of her.
And it was a link to my mother who had caused the photo to be taken and placed in that delicate frame and who had carried it with her to multiple homes for well over half a century.
And, finally, it was a connection to my husband whose smile I could still see as he looked lovingly at that little girl who would become his wife.
But when the frame toppled over several times in one day, I finally made my way to the local art supply store where I found a serviceable frame of just the right size.
It isn’t the soft gray of the original and it certainly does not have a velvet backing, but it stands upright on its own – still on top of my husband’s dresser, which is now filled with my clothes.
An hour or so after placing the old frame in the blue plastic bin in my apartment building’s trash room, I rushed to rescue it. Sending it to a recycling plant felt like abandonment or betrayal. Of my mother? Of my husband? Of the little girl in the photo?
I’m not sure, but for now the empty frame with the broken, detached backing sits unseen on a shelf behind a closed door in my living room cabinet. I am not yet ready to part with it.
[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]