Monday, June 26, 2017

photos--black and white

When my last aunt died last year--Aunt Elsie (I had two of those), my mother's youngest sister, at 92--my cousin Gayle Pugh Keller was given all Elsie's photos and she sent them to the rest of the Jones/Pugh/Bradley/Perkins cousins. I got a hundred or so.

I've look at them off and on and in the last couple of days have looked harder, looking with different eyes.

I'm reading a collection of British short stories about an Anglican Priest, Sydney (I had an uncle, my father's brother, named that, except with the American I rather than the British y) who is featured in a BBC TV show I love called "Grandchester". In that collection, Sydney is on his way to London from his rural parish and on the train is wondering to himself, "how much can a person's life change?" He thinks it's a basic question of Christianity, but he also thinks people, most people, stay pretty much the same their whole lives.

Looking at these pictures, I realize how much I have changed. I hardly recognize the life they portray. It's all from my mother's side--but I think if I had photos from my father's side, I'd probably recognize them even less.

My mother's family were all some shade of evangelical Christian. My father's family were sturdy agnostics who grew up Baptist. I'm an Episcopalian.

All these photos are from southern West Virginia. I'm a New England-er for 37 years (the first 50 are the hardest, the saying goes!) with a slight accent I can emphasis on cue into something mountain-born.

My father--a brilliant man--only finished 8th grade. My mother had a teaching degree and only two of her sisters went to college and only one of the women my father's brothers married did--all were school teachers, but I have three post graduate degrees and could call myself  'Dr. Bradley' if I wanted to.

Most of the people in those pictures would have been conservative Democrats or moderate Republicans. I am a left-wing, socialist leaning Democrat.

Everyone in both my families married people like them. I married a Italian/Hungarian/Roman Catholic. My uncle Sid even married my mother's cousin so that Sid and Callie's two children, Greg and Sarita, were my 'double first cousins' as we called it, though it's more complex than that. My mother's family was very precise about relationships. I grew up calling members of my father's family 'aunt' and 'uncle' who were second cousins at best! Because of the Appalachian Diaspora  and the fact that I'm an only child and Bern's two older siblings never married or had children, our kids grew up bereft of cousins. Bern and I had dozens.

There I am, in someone's yard, 2 and a half or so, leaning slightly over, my left hand by my mouth, smiling, almost laughing, like I'm telling a secret. My hair is blond and I'm dressed all in white, down to the shoes.

There I am, on the back porch of our apartmentment where I grew up with a 40 foot drop to the ground--which is the reason for my fear of heights to this day--sitting on a bench with Susan Creasy, the granddaughter of my parents' friends (I was born when Dad was 41 and Mom 38, so my friends' grandparents were my parents' ages). Susan is snarling. I'm smiling up a storm (we're probably between 3 and 4). Everyone probably thought Susan and I would marry--but we didn't much like each other.

There I am, in the yard between our apartment and my Uncle Russel and Aunt Gladys' house, holding my 4th birthday cake. The grass needs cutting badly. I'm still blonde as I can be and, as always, smiling like only children do when you point a camera at them.

Then, there I am, my first or second grad picture, finally with glasses--thank God! I couldn't see worth a damn! and my teeth all different lengths and only the top of my hair blonde, in a wildly striped tea shirt and smiling less than in the other.

I could do this a hundred times--me in diapers feeding the chickens, me on the tire swing, me on the steps of my Grandma Jones' house, on and on and on.

But here's the point--I know that's me...I really KNOW it...but I feel very little connection to the 'me' in those photos. Sydney the Anglican Priest is right. Some of us change a lot during life. I did.

I love the photos, but the 'love' is more intellectual love than emotional love.

I don't know how else to say it.

And I'm still pondering what all I've just written means or matters....

There I am

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.