It is Christmas Eve, toward the end of the big family party, when my sister Liz hands each of her five siblings a wrapped gift. “Don’t open them yet.”, she instructs. “Wait until everyone of you has one.” When all five of us hold a matching package, Liz says simply, “The title of this gift is: What I’m doing right now.“
And we open them.
As one, we gasp. Each of us holds in our hands a grainy black and white photo of our Dad, gone now for five Christmases. In the photo he grins out at us, so filled with youthful assurance that it still shines through, some seventy years after the moment. There he is, maybe sixteen years old, one arm casually draped around each of his parents. He is slim and strong, and happy.
My heart clenches, then begins to pound. Tears fill my eyes. I have so many reactions all at once, but everyone in the room is talking now; I don’t know what to say or how to say it. The picture is a treasure, in so many ways.
“He looks just like me”, I think. I miss him so much that a little spurt of anger flies through me: I want to show the photo to him! I want him to comment on how much I take after him.
“MammaNonni looks so content. Her baby boy is beside her”, I think. My mind turns quickly to my own youngest son, absent on this holiday.
My eyes take in the setting of the photo; the familiar grape vines behind the family, draping down the arbor fence. The old potting shed over PappaNonni’s shoulder. I can smell the grape leaves, and the sharp pungent tang of the tomato plants that I know were growing in rows behind the fence. I know just where the cameraman was standing, can feel my feet on the cement walkway and picture the back door just to my right.
I have so many questions! How old were you there, Dad? What was the occasion? As the youngest of twelve children, it was the rarest of events for my father to be photographed alone with his parents. Why were they posed this way? Was it his high school graduation, maybe? It looks like a summery day. Who took the picture? What year was it?
The voices of my family swirl around me, asking the same questions, making guesses about the answers. I hold the photo like a priceless artifact. I search my father’s face, looking for signs of my sons. Finding them.
I share my father’s dark eyes and round chin; the shape of his smile can be seen in mine. I see hints of him in my son Matt, in his manner and his facial expressions. In the shape of his face and jaw.
But it is my son Tim who seems to be echoed back to me in this picture; filled with life and eagerness, quick to embrace, quick to grin. Ready to take on the world.
Dad, I wish you were here to see your grandsons, all of them so much like you! I wish you were planning to dance at your granddaughters’ weddings. I wish you were here to laugh at this photo and to tell us stories about your parents. I wish you were here to reassure me that I really do look a little bit like you.
Liz; thank you! I am positive that you were right. I am absolutely certain that Dad was with MammaNonni and PappaNonni on Christmas eve, grinning with delight, filled with love, sure of whatever comes next. Buon Natale, Dad.