Who Lives And Who Dies
As far as they’re concerned, all the people in the photograph above are dead.
With the help of this photo we can still see them, and by telling a story I could conceivably reanimate them, temporarily.
Of course I could only do that with the three individuals I know. The others came to me pre-dead, and I’d have to resuscitate them solely through fiction. Perhaps with actors’ voices and sound effects I could create a radio dramatization, and you, with eyes closed, could then see them even better.
Introductions. My mother is the little girl on top, in the middle. I never met her father or mother, sitting on the left, or her uncle, in the middle. Her aunt and her husband, are at right. I called her Bunia, and she played a big part of my childhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I got stories! The two other girls on top remain two dimensional, unknown to anyone I know, but very possibly rejuvitated in someone else’s thoughts.
My mother bequeathed this and other old family photos to me when she was in her 70s. I am very grateful that she thought of laying tracing paper over some of them, indicating on it who the people were. A majority of them never came over from the Old World.
Even if I can’t animate many of them, the ones I do have names for can get attached to a genealogy, a place on my family tree, which I didn’t think of watering until one of the roots came up through the living room floor.
Memories—a rain forest that silently sustains us.
Being first generation immigrants, what very little I know of my family came to life through my mother’s telling. I had no particular interest in asking when I was younger and there is nobody left to breath life into those people—for example her father’s other five siblings—who can’t get out of the one or two time-frozen positions I’ve seen them in, in sepia tone, in posed photographs.