Joseph E Bird

Let's talk about reading, writing and the arts.



dreams of the past

The photo is a basement shoebox relic.  It’s old.  It’s bent and cracked. No Photoshop effects, here. Just a snapshot.

The subjects are familiar faces, but the photo was taken probably more than sixty years ago, before I really knew them. Maybe before I was born. Even in the older women there is youth I never saw in later years. From left to right, my Aunt Shirley; my grandmother Bettie Pearl, who I knew as Mom; my great-grandmother Tida, who we called Tidy; and my mother, Gloria, who looks to be with child.

The place, I believe, is my great-grandmother’s kitchen. If I had to guess, I would say it was breakfast.  There’s the coffee pot and toaster.  But I can’t imagine them gathering so early just for breakfast. Maybe lunch, which they called dinner.  Dinner would have included fried potatoes and tomatoes from the garden. Supper was the evening meal.  There would have been men in the picture by then.

There’s tension evident in the photograph.  Not a one could manage a smile, which is very unusual for my mother and Aunt Shirley, especially in front of a camera.  There’s a weariness, too.  Maybe they had been working.  Maybe canning tomatoes or beans.

They were all different.

My mother was the free spirit, enjoying every moment.

My aunt was sophistication personified, full of grace and elegance.

My grandmother, hardworking and kind, ready to share with everyone.

My great-grandmother, the strong, independent woman living by herself.

Maybe that was the source of the tension. Around the table love and respect, yet each one not quite understanding the other.  One dreams of this, another of that. And dreams, what are they for, anyway? another may think.  And Tidy, who has already seen enough heartbreak for all of them, keeps it to herself.

I’ll never know. They’re all gone now.  Not that any of them would give me a straight answer anyway.

I think that’ s the wonder of old photographs.  They tell a story, but never the entire story. A moment frozen in time that forces us to think about those who have gone on, to see if we can fill in the blanks. It forces us to remember them as they were, beyond the smiles and laughter. It forces us to remember who they really were.


1950s movie starlet at home for the Christmas holidays.

Could have been. She had those classic movie-star looks. She always wanted to be “discovered.” But her choice was her family. She was a stay-at-home mom. That’s what most mothers did back then. So maybe life in the limelight was not her destiny. In some ways it was a sacrifice. Still, it was her choice. Her calling was hard, sometimes wearisome, and largely unglamorous. But it was also noble and virtuous and rewarding in immeasurable ways.

She was my mother.

“Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.”

photo credit: Eugene A. Bird

A young woman stands in line.

A young woman
stands in line.
She is tired.
Tired from the kids.
Tired from work.
Tired from walking.

A young woman
stands in line.
Her hair is pulled back.
Her t-shirt is
stained from breakfast,
or last night’s dinner.

A young woman
stands in line.
She glances at the
beautiful people
on the magazine covers,
their lives a dream.

A young woman
stands in line.
Her young boy
tugs on her pant leg.
He holds a piece of candy.
No honey, put it back.

A young woman
stands in line.
Her buggy is full
of dollar store bargains,
and a cake mix
for dessert.

A young woman
stands in line.
At her side
a stroller cradles
her sleeping daughter.
The boy smiles.

A young woman
stands in line.
She will likely never
own a business
or empower other women
or be held in high esteem.

A young woman
Stands in line.
She is tired,
But her love
is patient and kind
and endures all things.

A young woman
stands in line.
She is a mother.
Nothing else matters
And her children
will call her blessed.

copyright 2017, joseph e bird

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