I just came back from a trip to Europe where I spent ten days in Denmark and Scotland, and a week in France. When I go to France I mostly visit my family, it is always an intense experience of picking up where we had left off, accepting that since my last visit everyone has changed and grown. We try to quickly get used the multiplying grays and wrinkles and find our common ground again. I see my family every 2-3 years.
I was born and raised in the North of France, near the Belgian frontier. I grew up in a small village, went to college, and left when I was 22 to live in Austria. I never lived in France again. Many generations before me are French, My great grandfather fought in WWI and my grandfather was a prisoner of war in WWII. As far as I know, I am the only one who has left the country. I moved to America 17 years ago where I became an adult, a wife, and a mother. I went back to school and worked for several companies and open my own business. One would think that I have smoothly and firmly implanted myself in my adoptive country, leaving the past where it was. Yet there is a big gash in my life that I have not been able to conciliate. I have not been able to find closure with my own stories and they have been brooding in my head for almost 20 years.
The stories I was told shaped my early years and they are still firmly engrained in me. Some stories have allowed me to rise and achieve, some have crippled my self confidence for many years. What is different in my journey is that the distance has made it impossible to move on from those them.
It is taking me a long time to untangle myself from those stories. I went to therapy, I am doing acupuncture (which I highly recommend), but sometimes something pops up, like a sentence uttered by a family member or a pictures found in a box and the unexpected nature of it makes it very powerful. That powerful change happened to take place during this last visit.
A couple of weeks ago I sat at my mother’s table and sifted through pictures that I haven’t seen in 20 years. I saw my grandmother’s never smiling face, my mother standing in front of our family home with me and my four siblings. I saw the second communions, camping trips, family dinners. I was told that I looked just like my dad and the pictures revealed that I am an almost exact copy of him. I have always hated the thought that I could look like a man. I have always thought I looked too big, too wide, too masculine (and was told that as well). And then I saw me when I was 3, 10, 20 years old. I saw me with my 40 years old eyes, shy smile and round face, long blond hair. I watched ME as I grew and for the first time I realized how much I loved that little woman in the making. For the first time in my life I found myself to be shockingly adorable and worthy of all the love in the world. I felt both sides of my family and all the generations before it funneling through me. I am my old and new stories, I am a collection of everything that life has taught me combined with a unique genetic make up. I am the end result of lifetimes of love stories and the beginning of my daughter’s.
The pictures gave me the power of reassessing who I was then and who I am today without a single word needed. They are a gift that I hope more of you will get to receive as you advance through life. Please do not discard those old family pictures, but instead try to hold on to them and take good care of them. Try to see yourself the way a loving mother would look at her own child and see what happens. And then pass them on to your children with all the story
Here are some pictures, please pardon the 1980s poor quality mixed with really bad iPhone screenshots.
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