Hashtag throwback Thursday. It has been fifty-seven days since the presidential election of 2016, and there are pinpricks of light in the darkness. I see it in the way people are trying to notice one another. I see it in the daily actions on social media and hear it in the quiet talks at bars and coffee shops. It is in the slowing down to enjoy the ordinary moments with the people we love. It is the beginning of the new year. With it comes the hope of the future, the idea that we can be better, more loving, more accepting, calmer, more patient. Here is a photograph of my father. There is the onyx pinky ring that I put on as a child. He is wearing the Christmas sweater I bought him and wool pants against the Buffalo winter. He is holding the cup that has been in our family’s cupboard since I was a boy. My mother made me tea in it when I was sick. We colored eggs at Easter in it. He is eating a sweet pastry he should not be eating, but once in a while is okay he would say. The pastry is my grandfather. The ring is my father. The cup is my mother. The wool is the winter of the east side of Buffalo, New York. Here is the revolution. The revolution is remembering the past for its hardship and struggle and seeing the successes and failures of time. My father carries within him the history of my mother and his father and his mother. I remember I need to ask him if my grandfather wore a pinky ring. I remember I need to ask him how he and my mother moved through the difficult times. It is sometimes in the darkest times that the brightest lights can be seen if you know how to look. Here is my father against the cold of the long Buffalo winter with a hot drink and a sunshine of pastry. He will wash the cup out with a blended whiskey, like his father once did. He will savor the pastry, the sweetness of the sugar on the tongue that for a brief moment pushes everything that is dark away.
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.
Hashtag throwback Thursday. It is back to school so I want to throw it back twenty-two years ago. 1994. The end of college. I was twenty-two. Everyone who I had been close to had departed for points unknown or home after commencement. they had gone to Buffalo, Philadelphia, and Boston. they had gone to New Jersey, Albany, and Waterbury. They had gone to California and Portland. I stayed in the Bronx working as an abstractor which meant that I prepared a condensed history of the ownership of a particular parcel of real estate. I researched this history which consisted of a summary of the original grant and all of the subsequent conveyances and encumbrances affecting the property on microfiche. Glamorous. I know. In some instances, I had to go back to the original hand-written books to find deeds that had not been microfiched. These were great big dusty books which were lorded over by an ancient woman who wore flowery housedresses and who did not like me immediately, she was distrusting of anyone who might not understand the magnanimity of these books. The histories of pieces of old New York written in hands long since gone. But I did. I opened them gently and ran my hands along their pages. I spent many hours admiring the penmanship they contained. She must have seen this and eventually smiled a toothless smile at me. We became co-conspirators. There was something important about this work to me, this idea of going back to find where we come from. It appealed to the amateur librarian in me. In any case, in those weeks following commencement I had never heard the city so quiet as when I sat in my tiny Bronx apartment with its view of backyard laundry reading Look Homeward, Angel, which only added to my post graduation blues. A crushing sense of loss surrounded me. It wasn't just college that was gone, an enduring moment of my youth, the east side of Buffalo, New York, was slipping away from me and I didn't know it then. Just weeks before I was on a rooftop clinking aluminum beer cans with my best friends. Then Kurt Cobain was dead. Just weeks before I was at a dance with a girl who could have been a movie star. We would etch our names in wet concrete in the east village in the hopes that moment would last. Then Brazil mourned the loss of Ayrton Senna. In one moment I was studying beneath perfect trees as a friend in leather boots and a skirt came yelling my name across the lawn and the next I was alone in the city, my future expansively terrifying ahead of me. Here is a photograph of me on the D train with what would become my confidant and companion in those moments post graduation. You can see the worry in my eyes, but so too the hope. I have my goldfish who I would wish good morning every day before leaving to the microfiche and books, to the going back to the past and seeing the beauty in beginnings. This is a photograph of me in that end which looking back was always a beginning.