Several days ago, I found my grandmother Wilder's photograph albums. There are four. They capture my grandmother's life from about 1909 to the last one dated, 1929. The photograph pictured here is of my father, in 1929--he was eighteen.
There is a lot for me to think about after having spent the last several hours turning the pages of her life. Her photographs captured joy and good family times, but I know that her life was not all joy and good times. She lost her first child, Ruth, (whose photograph is in the first album) when she was barely a year old. My father was her second child. I wrote in Above and Beyond Wellfleet that for the first few months of my father's life, she kept his bassinet by her bed, and would wake up several times during the night to make sure he was breathing. When my father was eleven, she lost her beloved husband, Solon, when he was just thirty nine years old.
None of these sad events are revealed in the photographs. Instead, the images show how much she made of her life as a single woman, bringing up two boys while healing her broken heart.
Unlike many single women then and today, she was financially secure. While the photographs show some of the advantages that this security allowed her, they also show what meant the most to her--her cottage in Friendship was a recurrent theme throughout the albums, showing the times she shared with her husband, her boys, her friendships and connection to the people of Friendship.
When I look at this photograph of my father, I see the dashing young man he was at eighteen and the handsome man he continued to be throughout his life. He was afforded the best education, attending Andover Academy, and receiving graduate and post graduate degrees at Harvard. But his life wasn't easy either.
I stared at this photograph for a long time this morning. Taking in his confident stance, his argyle socks, his handsome face. He did not know then that he would lose three fortunes and suffer many other challenges over the next sixty eight years.
Like my grandmother, he did not focus on the things that went wrong in his life, he concentrated on what went right. He never talked about what he'd lost, he always made it clear that he appreciated what he gained. When I was a teenager, I asked him how he managed to be so cheerful and not
complain about some of the circumstances that he faced. He answered with this aphorism "I cried when I had no shoes, and then I saw a man who had no feet." He really lived like that --with my mother's help.
That's my family history. It's an honorable legacy which helped me cope with my challenges. It made it easier for me to truthfully write the subtitle of Above and Beyond Wellfleet which is "A memoir about welcoming life after loss."
The images I sifted through this morning renewed my sense of optimism. I felt strengthened by the courage revealed in a family beset by sadness, but determined to shirk that weight. Sometimes it is hard to push away the phrase, "life isn't fair". These albums are the proof that the phrase is a waste of time.