In my last post, I talked about a picture as a stimulus for writing. My friend Janis Koike sent me this wonderful piece about a special picture – several pictures, actually. This is a fine example of what you can do with a picture. (Have you tried it yourself yet?)
Mollie was spoken of rarely, and with reverence. As children, we were in awe of her framed black-and-white portrait which stood on a coffee table in our first Kansas City home. Mollie was elegant and beautiful in a white wedding suit, her hand carefully placed in her lap to show off her sparkling diamond. Mollie was my maternal grandmother.
I never met Mollie. I never referred to her as Grandma; she was much too young and beautiful for that. And she was dead. She died when my mother was just nine. The tragedy was multiple: Mollie was pregnant.
A collision with the coffee table or a wanton ball sent the photograph flying one time too many, and my mother retired Mollie’s picture to a closet without comment or anger or visible disappointment.
Gramps and his wife Mollie were both born and raised in Chicago. They married in 1920. Gramps was a violinist and traveled with the big bands in the 20’s, 30’s, and early 40’s. When WWII ended and the big band era came to a close, he returned to Chicago and got a job selling neon signs to downtown businesses.
And he also remarried. Aunt Frieda, a long-time family friend, happily assumed the role of grandmother. Their visits to my home in Kansas City were the highlight of every summer. One week of non-stop fun. Following her divorce from the infamous “Mr. Feldman,” Frieda had taken a job as a buyer of women’s clothing at Marshall Fields. She changed her name to Frieda Fields, a name which danced to her personality. Her stories of work and friends kept me and my sisters in stitches for years.
But Mollie was always there in the background – quiet, sedate, perfect, and dead. I couldn’t fathom losing my mother as a child . . . or ever.
It was only after my own mother died, not so many years ago, that I went through some old albums and found pictures of Mollie, a young, healthy woman in lovely dresses, high heeled shoes, and stylish hats. My own mother stood beside her, a happy seven or eight year old with a round, smiling face and long brown hair. On the back of each photo were notes in Mollie’s handwriting. My favorite: “My girl. Ain’t she the cutest!”
And that is when I saw (and heard) Mollie, for the first time, as a real person.