I mentioned it in passing to my aunt--a round, smiling woman for whom I was named 35 years ago.
"I love the way you've kept all your kids' photos. I don't have any pictures from my childhood. My mom got rid of most of them. I guess I go overboard with my own children because of that."
My aunt said nothing. My mother is known for not having always been the most sentimental of people, even when it comes to her own offspring. This is understood. There's no need to discuss it, to run her down over it. It's a simple fact, just as real as the fact that my mother smoked Virginia Slims for thirty-odd years and always (before her vision went dark) preferred to drive silver and red cars. My mother wrote in four pages of my baby book before shoving it into the bottom drawer of her dresser, where she stored the undeveloped rolls of film from my childhood. When my brother came along, she didn't even purchase an album to record the moments. C'est la vie.
Three months after the comment had leaped from my lips and been forgotten, I found a thick, tape-enclosed envelope in my mailbox. It was nondescript, addressed in the perfect D'Nealian of an older generation. Curious, I carefully snipped the edges open with a pair of sharp scissors.
Onto the table fell photographs. Fifty or more. Each was carefully labeled, some were even dated.
All were of me.
Mary Grace, red-faced and shocked in the hospital just after birth.
Mary Grace, chubby, blond-headed and blue-eyed, in the crook of her Daddy's arm.
Mary Grace the almost-toddler, splashing in the shallow water of a lake.
Mary Grace, six and gangly, astride her favorite horse.
Mary Grace, hair frizzed into a perm, a 12 year-old's smirk on her lips.
Mr. Blanding's floated nearby, giving me enough space to savor this newfound gift of my past as it unfolded before me.
I laughed and cringed. "Did I ever tell you I took ballet?" I asked.
I held up a shot of me, posing as a bumblebee. Mr. Blandings guffawed. "That's a whole new side of you, babe."
Jo poked her head over my shoulder.
"Is that you?" she inquired, spotting a shot of a goofy teenager in glasses sitting on a purple couch.
"That's me," I answered.
"I do look like you. You said I did, but I couldn't really tell."
My heart almost burst. My daughter, looking back across the years and connecting the knobby-kneed girl in the Rainbow Brite t-shirt with the tall, curly-haired momma she has breathed in each day of her life.
My past, delivered to the front door. Now available for sharing. Thank you, Aunt Grace.