I’m on my way to Santa Fe. I made arrangements to go last summer; my brother invited me. He actually invited me to orchestrate a meeting with my half sister, a woman I have known about since I was somewhere between seven and ten years old. She was one of three children abandoned by my father when he left her mother, sometime in 1962 or 63.
Recently I received two reels of film from my mother’s sister, the only surviving sibling of either my mother or my father. The film was labeled “Family Xmas 1964”. My first Christmas. Incredibly, one can drop off these ancient relics at the local Costco, and even before they are returned to that big box buy everything store, you can view them online.
There I am, toddling about. There are children there, two girls in mid grade school, a blonde toddler boy and his mother..none of them known to me. Then glimpses of my grandmother, playing with me, a baby with serious demeanor, with the face I remember on my own oldest girl, focused, blinking eyes away from what must be the light of the movie camera. There is no sound; the technology for home cameras wasn’t that developed.
And there is my father, hair slicked back, smoking, moving around. I haven’t seen my father move around since 1985; he died that year at the age of 63. I have never seen him so young and moving, smiling, a Jewish looking version of the actors on Mad Men. Somehow, the motion makes him seem real again, more than the man in the pictures holding me at the Grand Canyon, more than the photo of him at his desk at the university, an image I’ve lived with for years.
The women wear ridiculous ribbons in their hair, bows that match mine and the other little girls. I feel angry at them, angry that they allow themselves to remain a baby like me instead of meeting and matching the sophisticated look of the men in the film. My mother appears for an instant. She must have handed the camera to someone else, in fact, my mother was an accomplished filmmaker who was sent back to the kitchen by the men who owned the industry. She is beautiful, as lovely as my father is handsome.
And who is missing? My father’s three other children. He is masquerading in this film, watching me. Did he forget the children that also belonged to him, including my half sister, who I am meeting now after almost 50 years?
My grandmother bounces me up and down, feeds me, lets me ride a plastic pony. I don’t crack a smile, I still don’t when I’m concentrating. It looks like I’m the only one who isn’t playing for the camera.