In a Kodachrome garden she kneels, surrounded by zinnias, marigolds, phlox, daisies, cloyingly sweet tuberoses, and a profusion of other summer, sunlit blooms.
When did I take the photo? She must have been in her 40s, with still more dark hair than gray, pleasantly plump, seemingly happy amid the proliferation of flowers she so loved, smiling for her camera enthusiast son.
Both gone: She, 30 years now, returned to the red clay earth of the north Mississippi hills where she was birthed and spent a lifetime; and Kodachrome, the best color slide film ever, with amazing depth, contrast, and permanence, consigned to the scrap heap of American scientific ingenuity, brought down by digital photo technology.
On a pre-daylight walk through my silent neighborhood on this December morning, cold, crisp air coursing into my lungs, chasing away gummy cobwebs of sleep, full moon so bright I could read a book by it, that color-saturated image of my flower-surrounded mother — in a carousel slide tray buried somewhere in the unopened storage of the decades —springs unbidden to mind. What triggered it, I haven’t the foggiest notion. The workings of memory, mysterious indeed.
Long-ago memories become mental Hallmark cards, wistful portraits of times never to return...
Of all the year, Christmas is much a time of memories: childhood awe at the story of the wondrous birth; the puzzle of how Santa can visit all of Earth’s children in a single night; the delicious aromas of Mother baking the fruitcakes she would give to family and friends; shelling black walnuts, hickory nuts, and pecans for other cakes and pies; searching the woods for just the right tree; the lovely Christmas songs in chapel at school and at church services; Christmas eve fireworks; the simple, uncomplicated, practical gifts of that era: books, clothes, gloves —a panoply of remembrances enveloped in a childlike innocence all too soon overtaken by the grownup world.
Now, in life’s waning, those long-ago memories become mental Hallmark cards, wistful portraits of times never to return. In the cold December morning, under a glorious star-bedecked sky, my meandering is filled with images of our own children experiencing the awe and wonder of Christmas, of the joys of grandchildren in a world light years removed, technologically and sociologically, from my own childhood.
With each new Christmas, a flood of memories: of parents young, then grown old, gone; schoolmates, brimming with enthusiasm, all of life ahead, now only black and white photos in musty yearbooks; friends, neighbors, beloved teachers, community leaders (and a few scalawags); those with whom we’ve crossed paths in business, travels — all those who’ve touched our lives and gone too soon, now but memories.
But, as with the vibrant mental Kodachrome of my mother and her beloved flowers, there is boundless gratitude for the cornucopia of memories that make Christmas all the more special.
May your Christmas, too, be filled with memories warm and wonderful...