The onion paper of the photo album always tickled my fingers. I loved the look and feel, though, and the crinkling sound it made when I peeled it to move the photos underneath around.
No matter how many times I looked through the family photo album, I always caught some new detail I hadn't noticed before. It was like rereading your favorite novel and understanding a reference you hadn't understood before.
On this particular day, I sat in the oversized chair in the den, legs crossed, and the album spread across my lap. The sounds of raindrops pelted the roof, creating a symphony that contrasted beautifully with the crackle of the logs in the fireplace. I couldn't have imagined a more perfect day.
My lukewarm cup of tea sat on the end table next to the chair along with a plate of ginger snaps. I turned the page of the album, closing my eye and leaning over with my nose to the page. I inhaled the scent, letting it fill my body. After a few seconds of reveling in the smell of the old photographs, paper, and pen ink, I sat back up and turned the page.
And there they were, looking back at me. All the faces of those who eyes, ears, mouth, nose, hair, and even my laugh I could see. The deep brown eyes, copper skin, pointed nose, small mouth, thick hair, and full bodied laugh. They all popped out at me from different faces; the faces of my great grandparents, grandparents, aunt, uncles, cousins, and the more distant relatives. It was like looking at myself through several generations and through several struggles.
As was my routine, I said hello to each one of them, smiling as I said their names. After taking a sip of tea, I turned the page and did the same thing. My body relaxed into the chair and a warm glow washed over me.
When I got to the third page, I shifted in my chair and the album slipped out of my lap.
"Great," I sighed as I leaned over, "just when I was getting comfortable."
I bent down and picked up the album. As I did, the pictures slid out of the onion paper and scattered on the floor. I picked them up one by one and began setting them back in the album.
When I got to the one of my grandparents wedding, I stopped to run my finger over the photograph. This one was my favorite. My grandmother's beautiful satin gown with the delicately placed lace, the fresh bouquet of roses in her small hands, and the veil on her head. And then there was my grandfather; smartly dressed in a tuxedo that was his father's, at least according to family history. Granddad had borrowed his father's suit after the money he had saved up for his own had been stolen. He was so devastated by the loss of the money that he had almost called off the wedding, not wanting to marry my grandmother until he could properly support her. But she insisted that no amount of money or lack thereof could make her love him less, and so they were married.
At the reception, all the guests surprised by grandparents by presenting them with a beautifully wrapped gift box. When my grandmother opened it, they were surprised to find it stuffed to the brim with money in all denominations. My grandmother teared up, grabbing her mother's handkerchief (her something borrowed) to dab her eyes. Meanwhile, my grandfather cleared his throat, stood up, and smiled.
"Thank you. You don't know what this means to Amelia and I. Thank you."
I always loved whenever my grandmother would tell that story. As a little girl, I always begged her to tell me that story over and over again. If she ever got tired of it, it never showed. She'd tell me the story while cooking, doing laundry, mopping the floor, or changing the bed linens. And she never missed a detail, even down to how the chapel was decorated. I can remember trying to draw pictures of their wedding day based on how she told it, but it never matched the picture in my head.
I made sure to place the photographs back in the album the right way, which wasn't too difficult. Since they had been in the album for over 50 years, they had created a blueprint for where they belonged. All up and down the page were light colored squares for the photos; it was like putting together one of those puzzles for little kids.
After I made sure all the wedding photos were in place, I carefully pressed the onion paper back on top. Giving the photos one last glance, I turned the page.
A young man with boxing gloves, a triumphant grin on his face greeted me on the next page. This was my uncle. When I was young, he would pretend to box with me. When I balled up my little fists and hit him in the midsection, he would pretend to cave over and then start counting to ten, after which he would declare me the heavyweight champion. This always elicited a laugh from me, for we both knew who the real heavyweight was.
He had fought against some amateur and professional boxers, including Joe Louis, at least according to my mother. I never doubted it; I just never saw anything about it in the research I had done. The way he told the story, detailed about every punch, every sweatdrop, every heavy breath made me believe it was real. There were just some things that were never written about.
That's what made this album so special; it was full of all the stories that didn't make the newspapers. The beautiful wedding in the small chapel; the hometown hero who boxed against the greats and the unknowns; the babies born; the ones who took their last breaths; and every moment in between. This was my piece of paradise and for just a few minutes each day, the veil was thin and I lived and loved with them.