Sue was content.
She looked down at the lemon slice floating at the top of her cup of tea. She took a sip of the tea and looked outside from her living room window at the children playing outside. They were eagerly participating in some group game and busily chatting amongst themselves. Maybe discussing the tactics that they would use to beat the other team. She felt satisfied in the moment. The autumn leaves were already filling up her front yard and people had already begun wearing warmer clothes. It was not long ago that Sue herself was one of these children. It was so recent in her mind.
“No, it’s over here!” shouted one of the children outside. Suddenly the whole group ran across the street and began looking around for some object near the base of a tree.
“I know it’s here,” came a distant cry. “I saw her hide it.”
Sue left her window view in the living room and walked over to her bookshelf, placing her tea on a shelf and crouching down. The family’s photo albums were all lined up and shoved in at the very bottom of the bookshelf. Birthdays, anniversaries, family vacations, each picture worth a thousand and one words. Each album worth its weight in gold for her family. Sue ran her hands over each one as if reading the braille in a newly discovered book. But she wasn’t feeling out the meaning; she was recalling treasured memories.
After a moment, her frail hand arrived at its sought-after prize. She gripped the top of the photo album and pulled on it. The tome was jammed between two equally thick volumes, each one holding a treasure trove of family photos. Another tug on the book and it came loose, collapsing on the carpet with a thud. She bent down on her knees and slowly opened the front cover. The memories came rushing back. The photo on the first page showed a little girl with two older brothers posing for a photo. None of the children seemed older than ten years old. Both boys were outfitted with tailored knickerbocker suits while the little girl wore an all-white dress.
“I was only five years old,” she whispered to herself while gently pulling the photo out of the page. She admired the photo of the three of them standing there in their best outfits. She pocketed the photo and turned her attention back to the photo album.
The next set of pages contained photos of her own parents, posing in their best clothes. They were rotogravure prints from the early 1920’s. Her father wearing a blue and white striped suit while her mother wore a flapper dress, common at the time, and with what seemed like a dozen necklaces on her tiny frame.
Sue continued on, turning each album page revealing yet another cherished memory nearly lost to father time. The photos were catalysts in her mind for all the adventures she had been on as a little girl. Sue’s hands began to tremble, her eyes slowly filling with tears. She soldiered on through the album, page after page, finally arriving at a photo that showed her as a fifteen-year-old posing with several of her classmates. The well of emotions she was bottling up finally burst through, and she let forth an exasperated laugh, while tears ran down her cheeks.
“I was so adventurous back then,” she said, sobbing and wiping away the tears now falling on the opened photo album pages. A thirst for life, a longing for the unknown. These thoughts came racing back into her mind and began to manifest on her face.
She had lost that sense of adventure somewhere along the way. Her sense of curiosity, her courage in exploring the world. The thought of this intangible loss made her mournful. She turned to the next page and came across a photo of herself as a young woman. She was holding up a toad for the camera and was covered in mud from the knees down.
“My first year of university,” she said to an empty, half-lit room. The walls offering no sympathy or response. “I was going to be a scientist,” she said triumphantly, holding back more tears.
The next several pages showed her brothers also posing, and busily engaged, in a variety of tasks. Fixing cars, carrying logs of wood, painting furniture or houses. Similarly, each page she turned her parents grew older, and more distant from their own youthfulness and sense of adventure. Her two brothers also grew older in appearance and attitude; each deciding to leave his personal journey behind to start another shared journey. Each brother found a partner and settled down for marriage. They were pictured on separate pages with their hands around young girls who would eventually become their wives. The look of contentment was evident in their eyes.
They had settled down. They each had families and discarded the sense of adventure that once captivated their every waking moment.
“Their weddings were just yesterday,” she said, gently turning the page. “I remember…”
Several pages later and her own parents disappeared from the photo album altogether. She recalled the sadness she felt at the time, and the desire for a family of her own. Even back then, she knew she would have to trade in her own impossible dreams if she were to ever have a family of her own.
“I held out the longest,” came a ghostly whisper from her lips. Sue slid her hand under the photo album laminate and pulled out a photo. It was her in a wedding dress with her husband looking exceptionally handsome. In the photo, her eyes were frozen and empty as if her soul had been pulled from her body. It betrayed a strange sort of sadness accompanied by acceptance of the inevitable.
She had died that day and been reborn anew.
Sue placed the photograph back into the album sheets and continued on. The vitality she thought she had lost on her wedding photo, returned to her eyes in another, rather simple, but very important photograph. It showed Sue holding her own daughter in her arms, shortly after she was born.
“My dearest Jenny,” she said while running her fingers over a photograph of her holding her daughter. Her eyes were full of life looking at the helpless life held in her hands. Her mind seamlessly migrated to the memory of her own daughter; lively, adventurous and full of courage.
She remembered all the trouble she got into as a young child. All the curiosity she had growing up and exploring the world.
She remembered the sorrow, the joy and all the tumults that life threw at them.
She also remembered her own daughter finding the man of her dreams, getting married and settling down to have a family of her own. She remembers the difficulties that brought. As well as the miracles that happened along the way, like the birth of her own daughter. Sue’s granddaughter.
Sue slowly pulled herself up from the carpet and placed the photo album on a nearby table. She reached her hand for the cup of tea still sitting on the bookshelf. It was now lukewarm. She closed her eyes and took a sip, decades of memories swirling in her mind. She took several steps towards the window in the living room. The front door swung open.
“Mom, I’m back, I brought you some groceries,” came a sudden shout from the hallway entrance. “I’m going to need you to look after Abby for a while, I gotta to go back to the office for something.”
Before Sue could muster a response, a little girl burst through the door and came running past her mother, and into the living room where Sue was standing. She was no older than Sue herself was in that first photograph she pulled from the album.
“Grandma, look what I found outside,” came the little voice, full of excitement. “The other kids tried to squish it but I hid it under the tree over there.” The little girl pointed towards the window which held a view of the tree.
“Oh really, and what is that?” Sue asked, slowly bending down to embrace her granddaughter, who was tugging at her sleeves. The little girl took one step back and plunged her hand in her coat pocket. She felt around for a moment before deciding she needed to use both hands to pull out whatever was in there. After a few seconds both hands emerged from the coat pocket and produced something slimy and mud-covered.
“It’s a toad, grandma,” the little girl said. “Can we keep him?”
Sue looked at the toad sitting in her granddaughters’ opened palms, then looked up at her own daughter standing in the hallway.
“Well, I’m okay with it, if you’re okay with it, mom,” came the reply from Jenny.
Sue looked back at her granddaughter and embraced her with a hand on each shoulder, looking into her bright eyes, she said, “there is nothing more I would like, my dearest.”
“Do you think grandpa will mind if I name the toad after him now that he’s in heaven?”
“I don’t think he will mind at all,” Sue replied. “In fact, I’m sure he would be honoured.”
Her granddaughter suddenly turned away from Sue and began dancing around in the living room. She was lost in a fit of youthful excitement. As Sue watched her granddaughter dancing in the living room with the toad held in her hands, she recognized the same adventurousness she had once had. She watched as this feeling she had lost so long ago, became manifest in Abby. She saw her granddaughter dancing around in her living room, full of potential. Full of vitality and eagerness for the future. She no longer felt sad at the loss of her own desire for adventure.
Sue was content.