A couple years ago my dad gave me a big box of photos his own dad gave him after my grandmother died. I think I was the first to sort through the box.
Among the hodgepodge of unorganized snapshots:
- My grandparents and another couple at a Chinese restaurant in the 1960s.
- My grandfather, who served in Europe in World War II, in his Army uniform. He is small, with pronounced ears, and vaguely resembles Humphrey Bogart.
- A series of faded, ghostly shots from a formal dining table stacked high with china and with a woman in an A-line dress standing to the side. It looks like the bounty from a bridal shower. I think the woman is my grandmother, but it’s too blurry to know for sure.
- A girl (Dad thinks she’s his aunt) showing off an engagement ring to another girl (perhaps my grandmother).
- And, then… My grandmother – definitely my grandmother – wearing lingerie and posed seductively on a coffee table.
That last one caught me off guard. My grandmother posed for sexy photos? Did my grandfather take them??
When you don’t know the story, your imagination fills it in. That’s true in all exchanges and relationships, and it is true with my dad’s mother.
She was a child bride, a mere 16 when she married her hometown WWII hero. He must have been 20-ish.
She was petite, with auburn hair she was dying a flaming Lucille Ball red by the time I was born. She sometimes drank too much. She always smoked too much. She was married to someone who did neither of those things.
Life was harder for her. Disappointing at times. She worked a full-time job most of her life, during a time when moms stayed at home.
She was as determined as her hair color. I imagine she was the one who insisted my father go to college even though she and my grandfather never finished high school. She wanted Dad to be an engineer because she believed engineers made good money.
She and my grandfather kept a canister of coins they gave my brother and me when we saw them. Remember when Cheetos came in a tin can? That was the canister of choice, except not for Cheetos but cheese poofs.
She kept a handgun in the glove box. Or maybe it was his gun, in his glovebox.
My dad – who became an engineer – and my mother, brother and I stopped by their small house in Birmingham every time we ventured to South Alabama to visit my other grandparents, the ones who lived on the lake in a golf course community.
I have always assumed she was enamored with my mother, not resentful of her, for taking her son away.
Some of those details are facts and some are assumptions.
I framed and hung my grandmother’s sexy photo in my dining room, the spring after my divorce was final.
Staged provocatively on her living room furniture, I saw in her eye something of myself at that time.
The hell with propriety. Cheers to pride.
Flaunt. Revel. Own it all.
I will never know everything about her. Does anyone know their family the way they do their closest friends?
But I am thankful for the person who captured a piece of her and left the rest to a curious, privileged granddaughter.