looking at pictures with brother

At our table at the bar, my brother takes another photo from the pile closest to him, inspects it, and places it on the pile closest to me. It’s a soccer portrait. In it, I might be nine or ten. My brother comments about how well I’m wearing my little white shorts and that it was a wonder that I never became a real athlete. I can’t tell if he is being sarcastic or sincere. Not that it makes much difference thirty years later.

I look closely at the photo, but I say nothing.

As we continue, a time-line develops – a forensic reconstruction. Details emerge, facts contextualize. Mom married Dad soon after graduating college; Dad didn’t have his 70’s looking mustache until the 80’s; my brother and I are older now than our parents were in our earliest memories. And now, despite my many assertions that I never actually lived in West Virginia, it now seems likely that I was conceived there.

Before Thanksgiving a coworker asked me if I was going home for the holiday, meaning, of course, West Virginia. I didn’t correct him; I know the taint will never wash away. The longest period I have ever spent in Almost Heaven may actually have been last year. I spent two weeks at the motel across from the hospital where my dad was recovering from bypass surgery. His discharge papers read that he was experiencing some mild dementia; he asked me then if I ever planned on moving back.

The pictures on the table are leftovers from the collages my cousin made for my grandfather’s funeral. She gave them to us in a large envelope with a broken cellophane window. They are a loose assortment of portraits and snapshots of me, my brother, my dad, and my late mother, now nearly five years gone. They roughly span seventy years. In one of the oldest, my mom is a baby tottering through the grass outside her childhood home. The spot is probably no more than a hundred feet from where she is currently buried. In one of the most recent photos, Mom and I are posing with two of her sisters outside of a rehab center in Pittsburgh. She is in a wheelchair, beaming and hopeful. She is wearing a Pitt sweatshirt. This last detail makes my brother cry.

“Have a drink,” I say, indicating his untouched beer.

To my brother, the sweatshirt is an expression of my mom’s devotion to us. She wasn’t a sports fan; neither of us attended Pitt. She wore it because Pittsburgh was home for us. It was a sign of her devotion.

We don’t finish. Our food arrives. My wife joins us, just off from work. She looks through some of the photos we have already been through. Commenting on our baby pictures, and how they exhibit our natures. Our moods lighten. We are not mourning at the moment.

We are celebrating.

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January 30, 2014 at 5:35 pm Leave a comment

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