Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Vanishing Steps

Margaret and I have been together for so long that often times it seems to me as if I have known her all of our adult lives. That is revisionist history of course. In fact, at the time I arrived on the scene she was the mother of two small children.

Nevertheless I have gotten used to - over time - seeing pictures of my wife from one of two phases of her life B.M. (before me): her childhood or the early childhood of either Suzanne or Rob. I must confess that I have little understanding of the years in between her transition from the role of someone's daughter to that of someone's wife and mother. I have a general understanding of the process of life, getting older and all that jazz. I knew those days existed for Margaret as they do for all of us who are fortunate enough to reach adulthood. I just never knew how they were filled.

She spent a portion of this past weekend at Joe's house, cleaning up some things for her father and organizing the basement. Joe and Suzy B moved into their home on Howard Avenue more than a half-century ago. My mother-in-law (may she rest in the peace that she well earned) was a saver. A lifetime's worth of memories are all neatly stored in a drawer or upon a shelf in that basement. Looking through it is like viewing a documentary about the history of the United States in the latter half of the 20th Century as seen through the eyes of a rather remarkable, middle-class, suburban family. The photographs at times border on the spectacular. The items Suzy B saved - such as a now-forty-year-old menu from Joe's diner - serve as living proof of a time when a cup of coffee was a nickel and a steak dinner was only a couple or three dollars. Remarkable stuff.

In most of the items that I have ever seen unearthed from that treasure trove, Margaret and Frank are children. Some of them are pictures of the two of them as babies. There are also those that documented their lives in Kodachromatic detail through high school. But until this past weekend I had never seen one of my wife that captured her in the space between.

Apparently after graduating from high school, Margaret worked at a bank in the area (United National Bank on Washington Avenue across from the Medemerge in case you were wondering). United National was one of the front-runners (at least in our neck of the woods) in the installation of an ATM machine for its customers. This past weekend I found my self looking directly into the eyes of my bride - all of 18 or 19 years old - standing in front of the bank's first ATM, in an 8" x 10" black and white photo that the bank used as part of its advertising campaign. She was about as big as a minute (huge surprise that she has not sprouted up much these past three decades; huh?) with a smile on her face that would melt your heart.

Had I known her when she was working her first full-time gig after high school, I would have fallen in love with her a decade or so sooner than I did. Of course, since I was only fourteen at the time, Mom would have had to drive to her house when I wanted to see her, which is a development that likely would have certainly cramped my ability to utilize my full repertoire of Lance Romance moves.

It is an extraordinary photo. It is extraordinary because I have had the opportunity to spend the past two decades knowing and loving the young woman whose smiling eyes were frozen in time at that particular moment three decades ago. Those eyes have seen a lot (and not all of it has been good) in traveling the route from there to here. They belong to a young woman with the whole world open at her feet, ready to take her wherever it was she wanted to go. Her journey and my journey became our journey a long time ago. But yet no so long ago that the young woman in that picture had any idea of who I was or whether I in fact existed. The two children who she would bring into this world and raise to adulthood were themselves, at that particular moment in time, images so far out on the horizon line that they had not yet even taken a particular form or shape in her mind's eye.

Is the life that has unfurled before those eyes at least a reasonable approximation of the one that they had hoped to see? I know what I hope the answer to that question is. Yet I also know that the answer to that question does not belong to me....

....not even if I close my eyes and try with all my might.


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