Hashtag throwback Thursday. It has been thirty-six days since the election and every day the news brings despair. The cold fronts are sweeping down from the arctic and pushing us inside to the warmth of our homes where we flip the light switches on against winter’s darkness. I have become late period painter Mark Rothko, abandoning the yellows, bright reds, and oranges of my youth on the east side of Buffalo, New York, in favor of blacks, burgundies, grays, and deep greens. This is what happens in old age, but this is also what happens at any age when despair is heavy and sits on your chest and makes it difficult to breathe. It is important to remember this. It is important to be aware of the burgundies and grays and it is vital to remember the yellows and oranges. This is what I want to share with you, here in the middle of the night, squinting through the darkness to write this, I want to share with you that I have not forgotten the yellows and oranges though they have become fuzzy. On the east side of the Buffalo, New York, in my youth, a patch of land was scraped and leveled. I cannot remember what stood in its place before the scraping and leveling, but I remember what they put in its place. Though I didn’t know it then, the scraping and leveling was the beginning of a long decline of my neighborhood. In place of the thing that I cannot remember that occupied that corner, they built a Burger King. The corporation had come into the neighborhood with its cheap shiny construction. In the opening week they gave away New York Yankees cards with cheeseburgers and I built a collection of Bucky Dents and Thurman Munson’s. My grandmother loved the french fries and we would walk the block from her house past the Baptist church that always seemed closed, to order fries and if I was lucky, a drink and sit on the curved orange plywood benches. She ate them one by one and the cars outside passed and we watched them pass. Sometimes we talked, sometimes we just say in silence. She watched me eat french fries and I watched her eat french fries and then we walked back to her house, maybe stopping to say hello to someone on a porch, me kicking at weeds, or looking at a stack of newspapers tied with twine and set out on the curb, a dog barking in the distance. This is what I remember, in the darkness, there is light and we carry it within ourselves and it moves us forward. It is the middle of the night, and it is cold, and winter dark, but my Nonnie is eating a french fry and the light is streaming in, bathing her in something true and golden. We are walking down the street again, before the corporation, before the weight and despair, when the light was in the hand you held and in the eyes of all the people you loved and loved you back.
Hashtag Throwback Thursday. This is not a photograph of me. This is a photograph of the mother of the father of my father. My great grandmother. I never knew my father’s mother, my grandmother (she having died before I was born), and have two or three vague memories of my grandfather, who died when I was little, so you can intuit that I never knew the mother of my father’s father. There is nothing to write. This is the only known photograph of her in my immediate family. There may have been others. Perhaps my father’s sister had some, but she too is only a photograph now. I shouldn’t say only, she is also the stories of her children and she is the stories of my brothers and sisters, and she is the stories of her husband and she is the stories of her brother, my father. Her stories will live on for a generation or two. They will live on for three or more if she is lucky. She will be carried on. Leafing through some old photographs from a box that had been moved from our childhood home on the east side of Buffalo, New York to my parents new house, which is one hundred years old, I found this stuck to another and slowly peeled it away. I showed the photograph to my father and said, “who’s this?” and he brought it close to his face because he has a lazy eye and he said “my grandmother.” That was the extent of the information that I could glean from him as he proceeded to watch the boxing match which emanated from the television set on full volume because his hearing has declined in recent years. I studied the photograph carefully to see myself in it, but I follow the Polish line of my family which comes from my mother and so saw none, but I see her in the nose of my father, and in the nose of my nephew. I can see her in the eyes of my nieces and in the strength of my sister and brothers. You’d think her story seems to end with my father saying “my grandmother” and leaving it at that, no more color commentary about how she carried a bushel of hay on her head in the mountains, or perhaps some recipe for sauce that has been handed down and down and sits folded in a cookbook on a shelf in Buffalo, New York which is only able to be deciphered through the help of Google translator, but it’s not. Her story continues in my father who sits watching men throw right hooks beneath an afghan my mother crocheted. Looking at this photograph again, I do see myself, carrying on my head the bushel of all the things that have passed and will continue to pass. I write these things down imperfectly into a little white text box so that I might not forget them and post them to a website. You will be going about your day checking your device, reading text messages and Googling words whose definition you are unsure of on a Gorilla Glass screen that is made by the manufacturer Corning, by luck you will come across my great grandmother and read the words I have written and you too will become part of the story, you will see it stretch back and stop and then elongate out to the broken back of my grandfather, to his passage to Ellis Island where you can search the databases to see his name which is the name of my great grandmother and my father and my sister and brothers and me.