Accidental Vestige

October 9, 2010

Post image for Accidental Vestige

Some photos haunt me. None more than this one. It was taken behind our house in Nashua, New Hampshire, circa August 1958, seven months before our family moved to Florida. My two brothers and I posed for our mother, and judging from our expressions, we hadn’t yet reached the stage of reflexive smart-ass resistance to any family formality.

Thanks to technology at the time, she had to shoot the image while holding the camera at her waist and looking down at the view finder. (This camera looks familiar to what she used in those years, familiar at least to a memory clouded from a half-century and more gone by.) Thus her shadowed figure also looks posed, the image of someone watching us rather than an amateur photographer guilty of a common composition error. With no outline of her hands holding the camera, it’s easy to imagine them clasped in front of her over a late summer dress, and her eyes cast not downward but fixed on her sons.

What prompted the photograph, the mood of the moment, and what was happening in our lives that day are questions whose answers — likely inconsequential — are gone forever. I’m certain that our mother never pictured me staring at the photo so many decades later, enthralled not with our youth or our brotherhood or the memories her snapshot awakens. What haunts me now is the accidental but enduring vestige she bequeathed. Not merely a shadow persisting on faded film long after her death but a presence hovering over us still, a presence always there, no matter the location, no matter the light.