Photos and Smiles

My mother has been on my mind lately. Maybe it’s the effect of All Saints, All Souls/Halloween/Days of the Dead time and maybe because my sister Judy sent me a copy of an essay she’d found by chance when she picked up an old notebook and meant to make some notes in it. Surprise! Instead, she found Mother. Our mother wrote on odd bits and scraps of paper almost anywhere. I have Post-It notes.

And maybe it’s because friends are dealing with their mothers’ aging and dementia and Alzheimer’s and all the attendant parts of that process.

Reading the faded notebook pages made me smile: my mother, shortly after we moved to the farm, found a baby kitten in a nest under one of her Rhode Island Red hens. She was very particular about naming them – not “chickens” but Rhode Island Reds which are more docile, she explained, and kindly. I don’t remember those so well. I remember the stupid white Leghorns flying up in a scattered whir cackling and screaming no matter how often I opened the chicken house door. Ya’d think they’d learn!

In remembering my mother, I remembered her high school graduation photo which captures my unknowing and which showed a lady far different from the farm wife my mother became. Well, perhaps if I’d known then what I know now, I’d have recognized the town girl under the apron. Astounding, really, how long it takes to understand who our parents were.

The photos I have are all loose in some box or another or digitized on the computer.  I keep meaning to get them organized…..

I asked my younger sister Julia to send me a copy. She’s the keeper of the family photo albums. Six or Seven thick, bound, leather-covered scrapbook albums which hold our family history.  She said she didn’t want to chance tearing the photo by removing it from the page so the top of Great-Grandma Moore’s head is on one corner. That seems more or less reasonable. Great-Grandma Moore brought the Quaker heritage out from her pioneer mother in Jewell County, Kansas, and sprinkled it liberally among her assorted offspring. It may have been Grandma Moore’s influence that kept my mother from being a flapper.

Rosy Jeanetta Ellis
Rosy Jeanetta Ellis

I never knew Mother’s full name until after she’d died and I saw it on the death certificate. She didn’t like the name Rose – it was the name of an aunt she disliked. I knew that name was in there somewhere, and I knew she didn’t like it, but I didn’t know it was Rosy. And Jeanette had a much stronger ring to it, I expect, than Jeanetta. She named herself.

The casual elegance of this shot is arresting. As are the bows on her shoes. I didn’t know until much later than she’d lived in Kansas City and worked before marrying. Few photos of my mother show much of a smile. That’s interesting. Not sure what it means, but it’s interesting.

Here’s another of the smiling photos. My father, mother, two aunts, and a baby. The baby must be Judy. Mountains in the background point to the possibility of this being the move from the Kansas farm to San Francisco. The prospect of city life must have excited my mother. Although if it’s the California move, I’m not sure why the two aunts are along. Mother is smiling in the same way she smiles in every photo when she is off having an adventure. Everyone is smiling, even the baby — except for the youngest aunt, the short one in front, who never liked me and is scowling at me, still, from somewhere beyond the pale and the veil of unknowing. My mother and I have one more thing in common, I realize, although she was wise enough not to name me Doris.

Somewhere on the road.
Somewhere on the road.