There are four photographs in my general collection that I treasure above all others: they are of the four generations of women in my family starting from when my mother was two years old.
The first photograph (1917). The first photograph is in tones of sepia. My mother (Elizabeth Cook, or Betty as she was known all her life) stands to the right of the picture as we look at it, in a white dress, with the ringlets of her hair so blond that the reflection from the sun almost blots out her features. A bit behind and to the left of her stands my grandmother (Helen Möeller, then in her twenties); she has blond hair, wears a pale colored dress and looks very much like the young Virginia Woolf, right down to the sadness in her expression. Next to her and with the appearance of a very large typical German hausfrau is my great-grandmother (Adele Schlesinger). Finally there stands a woman who would have been my great-great-grandmother, named Mary Smith and whom I never knew. She is taller and a bit slimmer than her robust daughter and certainly doesn’t look the 77+ years she must have been at that time. Her -what looks like- grey hair is parted in the middle and severely pulled back in a bun at her neck. Both she and her husky daughter wear long black skirts with white blouses.
The second photograph (1943). And there I am in black and white, Brianda only a year old, sitting on my great-grandmother’s lap! The stern, almost military like German woman in the first photograph has turned into a soft, sweet old lady wearing glasses, with her wavy graying hair settling gently around her face. I will always know her as Gargie. My mother, all grown up and beautiful, wears bright red lipstick that she carefully paints outside of her natural lips to make them look larger and fuller, her hair still wearing the too-many-curls that a friend of my father commented on once upon seeing her photograph. And my grandmother, whom I forever call Ie because I can’t pronounce Helen, no longer Virginia Woolf, but still with the sadness that stayed with her throughout her life. My great-great grandmother is no longer in the picture.
The third photograph (1969). Still in black and white, but now I am the mother holding my two year old daughter, Fernanda, in my arms. My mother is a young grandmother at 54, still the beauty of the family, and my grandmother, though never tall, has definitely shrunken as she nears 80. Gargie is gone.
The fourth photograph (2001). Technology has changed Reality and I become a grandmother in full color. My beautiful mother has shrunk to become smaller than her own mother in the previous photograph (she is 86, eleven years older than her mother was in the above photograph, but then this granddaughter, the only one that could continue the female line, was my mother’s 7th great-grandchild.) My daughter has turned into a beautiful woman with two sons and the child in her arms who is my namesake, Brianda. Brianda is ten years old so it will be a long wait for the next photograph of four generations of women. My mother passed away five years after this picture was taken, at the age of 91. Next it is my turn to be great-grandmother if the Universe wills it.
The time span between the birth of Mary Smith, my mother’s great-grandmother, and the birth of Brianda my mother’s great-granddaughter is 160 years (1841-2001), seven generations of women of whom six (up to now) have been normal, everyday, run-of-the-mill women who were born, grew up, got married, had children, took care of their households, aged (five up to now) and died (four). Now somebody tell me that this isn’t a miracle!