Hips and smile are broad
as she kneels on sandy concrete steps
of the beach on Sturgeon Point
Lake Erie silvered behind her
Posed with her four friends in black wool
swimsuits with rows of buttons
Their bobbed hair slicked down or tucked
into swim caps
Two are flapper-thin but my grandmother
and two of her friends are thick-set
broad-shouldered and well-fed
nineteen and unconcerned
The one I am drawn to is the one
with her arms around the thin girl
Her chin tucked down and lips pressed
against the girl’s shoulder
Curly hair can’t hide a wicked glint
as the photographer
arranges them all in a stack
for a moment
Now dog-eared and anonymous
but for my grandmother’s handwriting
and the sound of her laugh
through the box of my memory
Third draft (first two from August 2014). Still no good ending.
A lot of my work is ekphrastic in nature. I like working from photographs, because I like working around and under the edges for a story.
This is part of a project I’ve been working on for five years. My grandma Joyce (nee Neubecker 50/50 Irish & German), married my grandfather (full Irish) in 1938, when she was 29 years old. They were engaged (or something) for seven years before they married, and it’s a puzzle with no answer, because she died in 2000, before I knew any of this and could ask her to tell me about it or explain why. So I’ve been trying to figure out how to tell her story, and the only thing I have to go on (besides my 70-year old mother’s memory) are the photos saved in an old steamer trunk.
This one has more of a story to tell, I think–Geneva-on-the-Lake is almost 60 miles from Cleveland, so my grandmother and her friends were staying at one of the resorts–clearly placing her comfortably in the middle class. This is at odds with I remember about her: her stories of the Depression and her insistence on covering everything with plastic and never throwing ANYTHING away that might be re-used again in some way.
This is 1928–just over a year before the Crash. There is nothing but blue skies ahead.