It's an old photograph with bad composition and lousy color. The edges are curled up and brown. But none of that matters. The photo is laced with poignant1
memories so vivid that when my gaze slides across it, tears prick2
at the backs of my eyes. I am immediately transported to a place where only good and beautiful images can be found, a place where life revolves3
around lazy afternoons spent on the beach. In this magical place mothers share secrets with daughters, and grandchildren glean4
immeasurable bits of wisdom from the cadence5
of the waves and the soft tones of the women they love.
moment of our lives, tucked neatly7
into a small rectangle and preserved forever - years before anything bad came calling.
In the photo, the beach spreads out on either side, a fishing dock to the left, one of Calcite's great limestone8
boats far out on the horizon, and on the right, miles and miles of undisturbed beach. The photo is alive with children and women: mothers, sisters, sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, grandchildren. The lone9
man in the photo is my father. His shadow stretches long and lean across the restless blue waters of Lake Huron. With immense patience, he casts his line, again and again. My toddler son, his blond curls bleached10
white, peers across the endless stretch of sand. Mesmerized11
by his grandfather, he jets down the wet beach as fast as his chubby12
legs can carry him. His sisters give chase.
A million dancing whitecaps become myriad13
diamonds, straining to outshine one another. The glimmering14
trail sparkles on the vast and seemingly endless body of water that starts at my feet and disappears into the sky, where seagulls dip and swirl15
, calling to one another as an anxious mother calls to a wayward child.
A chaise lounge dominates the photo. In it a woman - my mother - reclines. Mom is spread out in the chair like thick, sweet frosting on a cake. Languid, her arms raised above her head, her legs splayed, pant legs rolled up to expose a goodly length of pale skin. Her arms are bare, the undersides pasty in comparison to the tops. Her smile in repose16
is tender, sweet, unassuming, and peaceful.
To my knowledge, Mom never owned a bathing suit. I don't recall ever seeing her step into the lake, and never before had she sunbathed17
. That day, however, was different. It was as if all her cares had floated out to deep waters like the unattended beach ball had done just minutes before.
We are a large family. When my siblings18
and I were young, Dad was the one who took us to the beach. He sat in the car and watched as we frolicked in the shallows. Mom stayed home to ensure we had a hot meal when we returned. Perhaps Mom was happy for the few moments of alone time at home in the kitchen, as was Dad, alone in the car.
On this day, their grown children, with children of our own, treat them to dinner on the beach. Dad fishes off the dock, never swaying from his pleasantries. And, for once, Mom forgets about making dinner.
It is a day of memories, a day never to be forgotten.
My three children are in the photo, and Dad is in the background, as are two of my sisters and their children, but everyone who gazes at the poorly developed photo is drawn19 inexplicably20
to Mom's smile. In the photo, her face is raised up to the sky. To the sun or to our Creator, she alone knows. Her eyes are closed.
I remember how warm it was that day and how she had squinted21
up at me, shielding her eyes with both hands.
"Are my legs getting red?" she'd asked.
My eyes brim with unshed tears as I remember the feel of her skin on the palm of my hand. Hot. The scalding tears run down my face. How I wish I could touch her one more time.
"No, Mom," I replied. "But better put some sunscreen on before you get a burn." Reluctantly, she'd sat up, the peaceful smile disappearing, and rolled her pant legs down, again.
"Save it for the kids," she said, her eyes scanning the group of children splashing in and out of the water. The whisper of a smile touched her lips as she watched for a long, wistful moment. With a sigh, she rose from the chair and moved toward the car where the coolers awaited.
"Maybe we should get lunch going," she said as she opened the first cooler.
Now it is my turn to smile. Mom was not ready to relinquish22
dinner duties, after all. On a whim23
, I turn my face heavenward and close my eyes. I draw a deep breath and search for the special place Mom found that afternoon. It comes to me easily. Without pomp or ceremony, there she is, smiling again. Tears squeeze from beneath my closed lids, and I fervently24
pray that anyone who might come upon me at this moment will say my smile reminds them of Mom's smile, that day on the beach so long ago. Tender, sweet, unassuming - and despite our loss it was peaceful.