There is a photograph of my grandmother with her hair piled high on top of her head in the Gibson Girl style of the early 20th Century. She is standing in a field in Pea Brook, New York. Her hair is …
There is a photograph of my grandmother with her hair piled high on top of her head in the Gibson Girl style of the early 20th Century. She is standing in a field in Pea Brook, New York. Her hair is thick, and her neck is long and slender. There is a photo of her in a cloche hat on the morning of her wedding in June 1918. In it, she stands on the porch, ready to leave the house. She is about to be married. World War One and the Spanish Flu pandemic were ravaging the world. She reminds me of my own tall and slender daughter, who, now at the age of 17, will be graduating high school this June and is about to embark on the beginning of her adult life.
I ran across these vintage pictures this week as I looked through timeworn albums searching for old neighborhood photos to post online for friends and family. This is one of my pastimes these days as I stay close to home during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like the World War One era, it is a time yet again of confusion and tragedy, isolation and anxiety, but also strength and creativity, connection and unity.
My days are strangely bookended by the morning news updates of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the afternoon press conferences of President Trump. I cook. I watch the news. And I take walks to find the first spring wildflowers—harbingers of hope. I forget what I am doing and wander around the house distracted, trying to recall what I am looking for. Last week I threw out the measuring spoons by mistake. We eat our meals together again. I try to eat all the leftovers.
My husband and kids are all “homeschooling” in one way or another. My husband, John, a social studies teacher at Sullivan West, continues his weekly tradition of “What is it Wednesday,” a classroom activity now transferred to the internet. In “What is it Wednesday,” students try to guess the names and functions of old-fashioned or antique items. My daughter continues to practice her songs for the high school musical via the internet platform Zoom. And my son, a senior majoring in journalism at Syracuse University, is finishing up his last semester. Only he is attending the final weeks of his “Politics of Iran” class sitting on our living room couch. My job, too, has telework.
My ventures into the community are winnowed down to the “essential” such as trips to the grocery store. At the doctor’s office, we are all met at the door with a list of questions and the strange, sweeping arc of the thermometer across our foreheads. Last week, John and I made a trip to drop off a social studies textbook to a student in John’s class.
I love to look at the old photos. There are old daguerreotypes and negatives (prime artifacts for “What is it Wednesday”). There are formal photographs of past ancestors in their uniforms ready to march to Russia with Napoleon. There are pictures of weddings and graduations. There are prints of the army tents of World War Two. Then there are the photos of my own children. They smile in their school portraits. There are snapshots of them running into the ocean waves at the beach. Now poised at the last edges of their childhoods, I wish them, and all our children, the resilience of the past and the hope of the future.