Thursday, October 24, 2013

White Shirt and Blue Jeans

At first glance the photograph in my hand could be the epitome of American women the past few decades.  Undeclared as a career woman or a housewife, the woman in her mid twenties stands with her back to the camera.  She is in her stocking feet, doing dishes at the kitchen sink.  Her untucked white blouse and blue jeans could belong to almost any woman in America.  Even the cluttered kitchen, lightly decorated, is average. 

But on closer examination some things stand out.  How many women have you seen do the dishes with perfectly erect posture?  And her hair, unlike the common ponytail, is long, though wound up into an intricate bun.  Still, wisps fly free of their bonds, testifying of the active day she has had. 
Even from the back I recognize her.  My mom probably engaged in the dish-washing ritual 85% of the nights I spent growing up in her house.  I shuffle the first photograph aside to smile at the next. 
Another familiar sight, my dad, handsome as ever, though younger then as evidenced only be the flecks of white absent from his hair; he wraps his arms around Mom’s waist and breathes in the fragrance of her hair.  Though I can’t see his face, his posture says he’s smiling.  Closing my eyes, I can picture his eyes dancing as they often do when he’s close to Mom. 
Remembering, I set the photo album aside for a moment.  Mom looks beautiful: doing dishes, waking from a nap, ready for church.  Dad sits on the couch watching her with intensity.  I’ve seen movies where a man caresses his girlfriend’s check.  Dad did that and so much more with his eyes.  Until I got well into my teens, I didn’t understand the way his mouth twitched and his breath came in quiet pants.  At last he would move, so that I thought we were ready to go to church or something; but he would spring from the couch to her side, sometimes wrapping his arms around her like the picture, other times brushing her elbow until she turned to kiss him, still other times just standing there like an awe-struck schoolboy content with her nearness.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath, releasing the heart-aching memories.  Those days can never come again.  I mean, Mom and Dad still treat each other that way.  It’s I who have grown out of the little boy looking up at things he doesn't even understand enough to notice.
In the next photograph my dad has convinced Mom to face the unidentified photographer.  She’s laughing in his arms, but they don’t reach around her.  Mom leans back against his chest, but her abdomen bulges.  I know by the date on the back of the picture that the baby is me.  Mom is glowing with the thrill of new life inside her. 
The last picture, perhaps as a fabricated punch line, shows Dad standing at the sink doing the dishes… which reminds me of the precarious tower of plates and cups in my own sink.

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