Würzburg, Germany, Christmas 1954. I am nearly two years old and it appears that I am the New Year being ushered in or the steam heat in the apartment is out of control and everyone else not pictured is in their underwear too (my preferred version). What strikes me about this photo is how much of my character is on display; the tilt of the head, the smile (pasted on for the camera, had I been screaming just before the bulb went off, we’ll never know); the provocative dishabille, the hand on the chest’s handle as if I might fall off at any moment or like the pony of my dreams it might gallop away with me astride.
And the tree off the floor, as if I were a pet that needed minding (not a cat, though, a table a cat’s domain as much as the floor,) you know it’s partly that and partly to make it fill the space and look like a proper tree and not as if it were the top lopped off a taller, more graciously proportioned one. If you’ve ever been to our home for the holidays (when we were still decorating a tree,) it’s possible that you may have seen many of the ornaments that are adorning this pagan fetish. My mother carefully wrapped each glass bauble and sparkle and the birds with the horse-hair feather tails in toilet paper (a ritual that has endured for as long as I can remember.)
What I wish I could retrieve are the actual memories of this time (or at least I think I would like that, it’s hard to say whether or not I would be prepared or willing to relive those times were it possible to dredge them up from the sandy bottom of my temporal lobe). What would I learn? It appears that I was loved and taken care of (please note the perfectly parted hair); I am not underfed, my eyes sparkle with the glint of the tinsel on the tree, but those are all outward signs of love and are now the only clues I have left to the actual events that passed for life in post-war Germany for American soldiers and their families.
But here in this photo we are in the mid-point of my parent’s marriage; is it the apex or the nadir? Will there be moments, such as this one, where the love between them glimmers with the spirit of their first love? My mother was 10 years older than my father and they both made a decision to bring me into their family (a rescue, if ever there were one — how thankful I still am these many years later.) That was a gift, was it not? An irrevocable gift, wrapped in love, tied off with the bow of family (however imperfect or small) tightly knotted at the top.