Hashtag Throwback Thursday. You wouldn’t know it from this photograph of my brothers and sister on the east side of Buffalo, New York, but my mother loved Halloween. I’m not sure what it was exactly. Maybe it was the scores of kids that ran along the lawns and hopped bushes to get to the next house to yell trick or treat. It could have been the jostling kids standing before her in their handmade or cheaply bought costumes with their plastic masks on the top of their sweaty heads so they could breathe again, bags outstretched and eyes looking. The community of it. The way the neighborhood transformed itself and forgot its problems for a moment. Maybe it was our own excitement at the prospect of candy and freedom of the night that she saw in us. Maybe it was the way she saw us concentrate on cutting up our masks, helping us with the details. Or maybe it was the idea that for one night you could become someone else. You could be unhurried, less tired, financially secure, and young again. Innocent again. Seven years ago today, my mother passed away. The Halloween decorations were in all the windows and on the 31st on a grey morning, we said our last goodbye to her. Here is something to remember, no matter how much you want the world to pause when someone you love leaves, it doesn’t. Halloween doesn’t stop when your mother dies, and so that night, my brothers and I, took our children out trick or treating. We told them to walk, but they ran. They joined the throngs of Batman’s and Spiderman’s, the Harry Potters, chefs, Princesses, and the skeletons. My daughter was a bedsheet ghost with eyes cut out that got turned the wrong way and she stumbled along behind the group until we righted her again and restored her vision. Her eyes were huge and longing and she ran to the next house and we stood on the sidewalk in the distance watching. The monster’s and robots and superhero’s racing from house to house or comparing the weight of their bags. For a moment I forgot my grief. Everything went away as a white ghost skipped down the sidewalk and I saw what I knew my mother must have seen on Halloween.
Hashtag throwback Thursday to the sweet streets of the east side of Buffalo, New York. Here is a photograph of me with my sister. I have no idea where my brothers were when this photograph was taken, probably on the train tracks throwing rocks, or behind the garage kissing girls. In my youthful milk belly days I was a mischievous, troublesome, disorderly hellion whose sarcastic demeanor at the gumball machine was the stuff of legend, but my sister was a confection, and under her tutelage I learned politeness and kindness, and generally outgrew my rude behaviors.
Hashtag Throwback Thursday. I want to go way back because I am feeling nostalgic for the days when people read actual newspapers that stained their fingers with ink. Here is a photograph of me when I was three or four. I am on the east side of Buffalo, New York. The east side of Buffalo, New York in those days was teeming with children. The children on the east side of Buffalo carried sticks and rocks and chestnuts. They smoked non-filtered cigarettes and were routinely sworn at in German, Italian, and Polish by old women in babushka’s who sat staring with bad eyes on crooked porches. I was a taciturn child, wholly unremarkable. I am the youngest of five. I am being watched by my brothers who are clearly nowhere to be seen in this photograph. I am certain they are on the train tracks lighting things on fire or throwing rocks at the girls they like. My sister, were she to find out that they had left me, would have grabbed them by the scruffs of their necks and banged them off of a radiator, but she too is missing. She is probably eating sponge candy at the Garden of Sweets on Bailey Avenue. In any case, here I am, alone and observing the world. It is a common theme in my life. I distinctly recall this day, it is one of my earliest memories, perhaps made concrete by the existence of this photograph which must have been made by my grandmother before she retreated inside to listen to polka music on her little transistor radio. I am alone and watching the neighborhood unfold around me. Everything is a wonder and bathed in light. I remember thinking: Buffalo is no resort town. It is the sorrow of one thousand storms and a monument to the perseverance of people. I thought to myself: not far from here, the water rises and falls with a slap like a sigh on the beaches of Lake Erie. The gulls circle overhead, and the canadian geese fly in formation, as the wind comes rushing down from the arctic, carrying the whispers of goodbyes from arctic villages like Kivalina, and then hurtles down what has become the saddest of streets of leaning victorian houses. All peeling paint and cracked porches. It occurred to me, as I stood there alone, how much we lose with every extinguished life. The rotted porches can only hint at the rocking chairs and the chipped lipped pitchers of iced tea of its past. The chair will be chopped up for firewood and the pitcher sold and collecting dust in a secondhand store. I remember thinking about my mother and what would happen after she goes. Those memories of hers as she walked this same street held tight behind her eyes. Who is left to write the history of what took place here? The power of her memory will never be heard again, and it retreats into the leaning houses which creak to get our attention, then stand mute under our gaze. It was with these thoughts that I made my first attempt at drawing the figure. At making a mark that might be left when I too grew old and died. I was at the beginning of my life and saw how it was attached to so many other lives. I saw myself stretching backwards in time in the eyes of my grandmother whose eyes resembled her fathers who I never knew and it went further into a past I would later find hints of. I saw it leap out towards the unknown of the future, at things I was too young to comprehend but still somehow felt. I bent to my task with a piece of rock that when pressed into the concrete made a white line. I drew myself and in drawing was trying to make meaning of my life.