Sunday, November 25, 2007


I had dinner with my neice last night. We drove out the their farm of filberts and marion berries along the Willamette River. Two neices and their mother, and their families. To describe my family as fractured is accurate, and these girls were raised on the far side of one of the deepest breaks. A crevasse.

At some point, when her daughters (one my neice by blood) were about two and five, she took them away from us and never came back. The girls are now 40 and 43, and to be face to face with her is like looking in a rearview mirror. I see myself, my brother, my grandmother, perfected by the union of my brother and a beautiful but crazy girl some forty years ago.

They came to my mother's funeral some seven years ago, and even then, it was stunning to see her. She has become a good woman. She knows some of the tragedy of her young life, but wonders at her lifelong fear of poverty and places that are not clean, and I will not be the one to describe her childhood to her. She told me she used to make up stories about her family because she didn't have one.

I cried. I don't know what to tell her.

I'm not sure why we didn't see her again. I'm not sure why we didn't keep in touch with them. To protect her? But when she said, "There probably aren't any pictures, are there?" I had to laugh. Oh yes. We have pictures. Pictures we have. So today, I dug out pictures of her grandmother, and her grandfather, and her greats and great greats, and her father as a baby and her aunts and uncles and I will write her a family tree and make her a scrapbook, because I know how and because, fracture or no, we are family.

Friday, November 16, 2007


I finished the scrapbook. The fucking scrapbook, as it has come to be known. And here is a record of the process: (apologies to Nina for not posting scanned pictures. Turns out the scanner is so old it won't work.)

First of all, I had to sort through mountains of old snapshots, selecting those that wouldcouldmight have meaning for my son. He is not nearly as sentimental as I am, and I am not. So, I judge and I wonder and I choose this one and that one. There are my favorites, and all of the shit (did I say shit?) from his father. They are actually fairly nice photos, better than any I take, and as important for this document as mine are (hate to admit it, but it is true).

Then, I rounded up all of the undeveloped film canisters, 23 in all, and took them to Walgreens. Most were about 20 years old. Like I've said all along: I'm no historian. And honestly, I am such a shitty photographer that the ones that did survive move after move after move are unredeemably bad. Most were blank, whole rolls of purple, one roll of people I either never knew or have forgotten entirely. The latter is as likely as the former. It was somebody's wedding. Not mine. There is one picture of my wedding. One. So, of 23 rolls, I probably got 10 useable photographs. It was a relief to have them developed, though. Done is done. But there was one great, if purple, shot of my son and Spencer, the greatest dog in the world.

Having completed the monumental undertaking, my initial disgruntlement is not so much with my absence (I hate to have my picture taken) but with his father's presence. I may have referred to this in the former post and this is probably not the last time you'll hear about it.

So, we have picture after picture of Daddy with the Baby Boy as though he were the most thoughtful and present parent in the universe. If you look closely, however, you'll see the book he is reading to the adorable baby is Easy Rider magazine, and that the only thing under the Christmas tree for Baby's First Christmas is motor oil, and that baby's first birthday cake is really just a chocolate chip cookie with a candle on top.

I muddled through these resentments once upon a time. They may need just the slightest bit of review.

So, on I went, slogging through page after page of a not particularly idyllic childhood. If it were left to me to choose the chapters, they would be titled:

Jacksonville, before the escape
The Wonder years
On the run in Red Bluff
Post trauma in Bolder City
Coosbay, after the escape
Central point, the heroin years

As a writer, I had visualized this project as one requiring a fair amount of writing. I figured I'd write a brief commentary about each picture, talking about where and when and who, but I found myself speechless and unknowing. I couldn't get the school pictures in order if my life depended on it. I wrote things like "kindergarten or first grade?" How lame is that? What mother doesn't know that? I don't even really know if he went to Kindergarten, or if there was one. So, my comments are brief and tentative. It is a bit embarrassing, really. I have pictures from my side of the family, way back, and papa's, way back. There is an Ojibwa medicine woman named Naganook on that side. Mine? Texans and Coastal folk. Oregonians 5 generations back from him. But even that stuff I am unclear about. I know some faces that appear to age from frame to frame, from birth to death, all in celluloid permanence. And what difference does it make really? What if I just made it all up? Who would know, or care?

Still, it is a great scrapbook. Only I know what really happened. Then again, I have a revisionist memory. Ask anyone.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


In the midst of Nanowrimo, I am working that scrapbook for my son. It is an emotional work, and difficult when I find so many years when there were no pictures taken at all. No record of his life from about 4 to 9, which was the bottom of my life. But there are also wonderful times recorded, the background apparent only to me. Like the one where we are sitting on the docks at Charleston, crabbing, my arm around my son protectively, the half-gallon of Sunnybrook just beyond the frame. I wish the pictures were digital.