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The Album

Tags: family, love, photo

Love before and beyond death...

The first time I ever asked my Gran what my mum was like, she smiled at me and lifted me into her lap. I was still small then, so I nestled comfortably against her ample belly, waiting excitedly as she drew out a battered, red, leather covered book seemingly from out of nowhere. Somehow, she always had it with her.

Even now, much older and possessing the knowledge adulthood seems to bring to a person, I believe that there can be no red-leather book without the beaming, wrinkled old lady, graceful, though well past her prime. Every time I take it out, I still expect to see her out the corner of my eye; her wide lipped smile lighting up her lace covered room better than any lamp or light bulb.

She would wrap her arms around me, and place the book on my lap. She let my curious hands trace the ridged covers, and then slowly open it. The leather creaked and crackled in my ears, and I thought it had to be as old as Gran. She creaked when she moved as well.

Beneath the cover, the two of us flipped gradually through the pages, and my eager eyes drank in the frozen, rectangle-shaped visions of life, captured through the lens of a ready camera. The book was unlike any other I had seen in my life, or had ever seen since.

She would tell me wonderful things, narrating the book from beginning to end, giving life to the still figures and faces, caught and pasted for years to come on slim pieces of card. When I was young, I used to ask myself if they were unhappy, being trapped in the book. To have faces staring down at them in fascination, day after day.

But once I voiced my thoughts to my Gran, she laughed at my fears, and shook her head. She tells me to look at the pictures again, and when I do, she reaches around me and gently touches one of them, stroking the red-haired woman's face. I can still hear her voice, and the warm noise caressed me, instantly easing my worries with a soothing balm of love.

"Look at them, dear. You see them smiling? See?"

"Yes. They are smiling really big."

"That’s right. Now sweetie, do you really think they would be smiling if they were unhappy?"

"No, Gran."

"There you go." And she would laugh again, hugging me close to her. I would laugh too, knowing how silly I was at thinking that, and of course, how very smart and knowing my Grandmother was.

I remember those moments, as though my memory had an album of its own. Every now and then, my darling Lucy will run up to me, wrap her arms around my legs and beg me to tell her again, and I'll smile at her, pick her up and sit down with her on my lap; the roles of my childhood now reversed. Even as she coos and squeals over the pictures, I place my hands over hers, and together we trace the faces imprinted on the pictures, marveling at the talent of those who captured these slices of life; marvel at those who had the forethought to put them in the red leather book, for me to see, and many years later, for my daughter to see.

I think back to those days, when I was still young enough to not know of anything more dangerous, or more terrible, than crossing the road without holding an adult's hand. To a six-year-old, the idea of doing just that was considered something akin to heresy.

One day stands out to me, more than all the others; because it was the day I learned that the world was not the happy place all children believe it to be. It was the day I ceased to be a child.

I was eight years old.

Gran held me in her lap , and we were looking over the precious red album, when, in a moment of unforeseen insight, a disquieting thought occurred to me.

“Gran?” I asked.

She seemed to shake herself out of her reverie and answered, “Yes, dear?”

“How come I never see mummy for real? I mean, I only see her and daddy in this.” I run my fingers over the image of her face.

Gran doesn’t say anything for a long time. I later learnt that she had always expected the question, but once it was asked, she didn’t know what to say. What could she say, that could make the situation better?

Finally, when she did answer the innocent question, she was hesitant. Her voice was slower than usual, and it didn’t sound like her at all.

“Deirdra, my dear…” That scared me. She hardly ever used my name, only when I had done something wrong and now I wondered what I'd done.

"Your mother, and your father, loved you so much. If you don't believe anything else I tell you, at least believe that. A few months after you were born, they had to visit your grandfather. He was ill, and they left you here with me when they left."

"Why did they leave me?" I asked, tears welling in my eyes. Didn't they want me with them?

"They didn't want to, my darling, but they didn't want to drag a small baby to such a place. They left you with me to take care of you; they were only gone for a few days."

"Oh," I said, my voice sounding small. Her words made me feel better, but I wanted to hear the rest of the story.

“I didn’t want to tell you this until you were a little older. Do you know what an accident is, Deirdra?”

“Yes” I said “it’s when you do something without meaning to.”

“That’s right. Well, your parents had an accident in their car, on the way home.”

“What kind of accident, Gran?”

“The bad kind; the kind that takes people away from the ones they love, and who love them.”

I sat quietly on her lap, this new information seeping into my mind. Something appeared in my throat, and when I spoke next, my voice seemed deeper.

“If they didn’t come back, where did they go then?”

Gran sighed, and I could hear a strange sound coming from her. But something about the noise kept me from turning around to see what the source was.

“They went to heaven, sweetie.”

“Is it nice there?” I asked.

“Oh yes, it is beautiful there.”

“Will they ever come back?”

Her answer was so quiet that I almost didn’t hear it.

“No, dear, they can’t come back.”

I remember very little after that. I do recall that I cried in the knowledge that I would never see my parents, and I know that my Gran had cried with me. We rocked together, our shed tears mingling.

But I don’t think I cried for them ever again.

Over the next few years, I kept looking at the album, seeing my mother and father's happy faces, and I realized something.

Though I’ll never get to meet them, or see them in real life, I’ll always have pictures of them , and the stories my Gran told me about them.

It is only when Lucy, my own daughter, asks me to take her in my arms and show her the pictures again; that I truly appreciate what my Gran did for me.

If she had never shown me the photo album full of my parents' pictures, I wouldn’t have known them at all.

But I did, and now, as I pull out the battered leather book and lay it on my lap, I remember back to those warm, bright days of my childhood, and I smile.

In the confines of my mind, I shout out to the heavens all the things I want to say to them. They’ll hear it, and know what I want them to know.

I love you, Mum. I love you, Dad.

And finally, to the woman who cared for me in their place.

I love you, Gran, and thank you.

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Copyright © All characters and story lines, as well as anything that I make up within my head belong to me. Plagiarism is not cool.

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