I love history. I do. I love gazing at old photos, imagining the experiences of those who lived their lives so many years before my own.
I love thinking about what they felt, what they thought, what they dreamed. I can imagine them growing up, marrying, working, aging. I can picture them falling in love and dreaming and laughing and planning their futures.
But it seems beyond my wildest imagining to think that the ladies in the pictures above were ever young mothers, like I was. It seems impossible to think of them cradling their precious new babies, the way I did once.
All of these women lived in the very same town where I live. All of them had children. All of them were once new moms.
Somehow, though, it seems beyond belief to picture them rocking a crying child in the darkest part of the night, thinking, “I don’t know how to make him feel better! I need my mother!”
I look at their faces, frozen in the black and white images of history. They look solid, assured, secure in themselves. Their clothes are just right, there hair is orderly, neat, stylish.
They are no-nonsense. They are confident. They are adults.
When I was the same age as these women, perhaps a hundred years after they walked the streets of our town, I was muddled, insecure, unkempt. My hair stood up in messy tufts. My clothes were wrinkled and stained. It took all of my strength to keep my babies fed; I could spare no effort toward making a good impression.
I hold these old photos in my hand. I gaze intently at the faces of the women in them. I wonder, “Did you cry when your firstborn went to school?” It seems unlikely, somehow. I ask them, softly, “Did you think about how quiet your life would be when they grew up?” They look so resolute, so determined. Surely these were women who gave birth with the intention of creating solid adults. Surely they were too grounded in life’s realities to think about such silly whimsies.
I rub a finger over the face of the lady with the stern uplifted bun. I squint my eyes, and suddenly I see it. Her face lights up with joy and laughter; her grown up children have come home. I see her holding each one to her heart, kissing each one softly and sweetly and pushing him back to look into his face. I see her embracing her daughter, newly wed, sharing the joy of life unfolding.
I see these women, all three long gone, long buried, long forgotten. I see the face of motherhood shared.
I wonder suddenly, “Who will look at my picture a hundred years from now?”