Memories Fabricated by the mind, suggested through image.
My fabricated memories are always very short and there is never a face. There is gesture. A streak or a smear. Clothes. Feet. Pants. Pants that someone from the 60’s would wear, someone who cared about their appearance. Pressed Slacks.
The only way I’d ever seen my grandfather- in still frame. My grandparents wedding portraits hung majestically on the walls in art deco ivory plastic frames. Grandpa Patrick looks sort of like a Charlie Chaplin character. Not the Little Tramp but the actor. Happy, laughing, hair a bit mussed. Always in a suit and tie. Always. But still. Those I remember now because I’m trying. But there is that other photo, the one that immediately comes to mind if I think “grandfather.” It hung in the dining room of my grandmothers house against the white walls. All the walls in the house were white, so much light when the sun shone into the massive picture windows along the front of the house. Lace curtains would only mute the light into paisley like patterns over everything in the room.
There was a lot of looking out the window into the street in this town. See whose coming and going. Stick your head out the window to shout over to your neighbor or your cousin living a few doors down. And sitting outside all weekend long in summer. Too hot on the pavement to do much but sit in the shade. No central air in the 80’s. Good reason to have awnings over the front porch. Even the smallest porch had an awning. My grandmothers doorway also had a lamp on either side under the awning. Birds would nest there. I once thought I’d try and help the eggs hatch. Hurry it along. I raised the little baby bird for a few days before she disappeared from my bedroom one morning. My parents said she died. I didn’t believe them. But also, I knew. I should have been patient. She needed to stay in the nest much longer. Parents know these sorts of things. But sometimes they aren’t there to tell you. Grandma was near blind so it was easy to hide my experiments. I revisited that town, what was once her house before it was sold after death. They remodeled. The awning gone. The banisters gone. I suppose the new occupant isn’t an elderly grandmother and I suppose they don’t spend much time outside.
I think the photo was a 5 x 10. Black and white. Grandma Sadie on Grandpa Patricks arm walking toward the camera, framed by a large dark set of doors they must have just exited. You can see the movement in the photo with one or the other of each of their legs in half stride, so yes, this is not a posed picture. This is a picture taken by someone waiting outside the door, a safe distance away to capture the door itself and the people exiting it. To capture them fresh. Their gaze. As a boy looking at this picture. Studying my grandfather the ghost and my grandmother as a younger woman. They didn’t seem happy. Now I know. The portrait not of a party or a wedding. It was taken for a newspaper at the courthouse during the murder trial. The door in the frame to give it context, location. It sat framed, among the other family photos, non-descript but always there. And me always curious about it… or maybe I’m just imagining that. With all this white everywhere, anything related to Grandpa Patrick or Uncle Gary had it’s own shadow. Like the boogie man or the monster under the bed, even though my sister and I were born into loving these figures, we wouldn’t speak of them, or I should say ask more than what we were told. We knew early on what lingering pain looks like.
And then color.
It was when I began research for the film that I unearthed photos of my grandfather in color, these taken shortly before his death which was shortly before my birth. A wedding album that sat in a cupboard drawer for 30 years. His skin was not paper white with gray dotted shadows like a newspaper. It was similar to mine. His hair was more silky, not pulp. And his eyes were blue. But his smile – then and always seemed forced in all pictures. All but the early days. The ones when they were young, and he was an Italian Charlie Chaplin. I was shown a 10 second video clip recently. My family – mom, grandma, Grandfather and Uncle Gary, my aunt Patty 11 or 12, pirouetting for the camera. She liked the attention. It’s a brief moment but they are moving. I draw all I can from it. The moment when these ghosts break from their frozen postures. I can kind of see my uncles shrugged shoulders, what he looked like with a beer. It must have been within a year or two of his death. Was 21 the drinking age back then? My grandfather dancing and teasing the ladies. It moves. And so now I can remember one drinking a beer, one dancing. The rest I imagine. It’s all I’m going to get.