Four years ago, my wife and I pulled out boxes of individual photos and albums filled with five generations of images and memories. My mother died a couple of months before, and I finally got the courage to forge through the heavy-heartedness and sort through the pictures. We placed each picture in one of three piles, designating each photo for each of Mom's three sons. When neither of my brothers nor I were pictured, we tried to alternate piles, keeping it equal and fair. Mom suffered nearly fifty years of the three of us pummeling each other half to death. She deserved a final act of kindness.
After hours of reminiscing and sorting, my wife stopped at this photo. Mom was the poster woman for 1960s Americana. A young woman relaxing on the beach, a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, in true-to-life "Mad Men" vacation. (I would like to describe that white strip of tape on Mom's forehead, but I haven't a clue.)
"That's Panama City, Florida," I told my wife. "Mom went there with my grandparents every summer when she was a teenager. There are pictures in here somewhere of my older brother there when he was a little kid." Though she was clearly young in the photo, I knew Mom was married and a few years removed from living at home. She was smoking a cigarette and likely enjoying an afternoon toddy, felonies in her parents' strict Southern Baptist household. If the nicotine and hootch didn't get her, my grandfather would.
We stared at the photo. Mom soaking in the the sun, the sand, and the carefree day for a young woman neither of us new just yet. Breaking our nostalgic silence, my wife started laughing, then belly-howling. "What?" I asked. "So she's smoking on the beach. Those were different times." My wife pointed at the white border of the photo. Printed there: KODAK • JUNE 1964. Five months before my birth date.
My brothers understood why I placed the photo in my stack.