I'll Fly Away

I wish I would have paid more attention when we sat at that old round formica table as she pushed her pictures towards me with her thin, unbelievably soft hands. I remember her telling me they were a group of friends who got together to hike. Those pants, are those what are called jodhpurs I wonder now looking at them. Whose piano was that? Were they friends with some rowdy boys in a band. Had she been one of those girls, the ones that balked their old country parents and wore pants anyhow? Maybe she smoked and drank and flirted and got bawdy. I know my grandmother frequented the dance halls of the day, she must have too. I wish I had paid more attention because this group of girls looks hardly different from my own group of girls. The funny one, the pretty one, the shy one...all sharing secrets. Where did all these girls go I would have asked her. What did they do and become? She is the one in the very middle. Yes, the one with the silly pointed hat.

Who took this picture I think whenever I look at it. Where were they going all dolled up? Was this outside of a church after services or in front of a train station waiting for someone's boyfriend?

This is my favorite picture. Look at the hair nets, the trouser pants. If they were wearing bras, they weren't the standard bulleted ones of the day. Maybe they took them off because they were far from the watchful eyes of men or mothers,I bet they still had clean underwear on. Those cameras in their hands, where did they get them?

I wish I had asked more questions instead of scanning the pictures while I ate the cookies and deviled eggs she'd made for me. Don't get me wrong, I loved the pictures and it meant a great deal that she gave them to me, to keep some of her memories of her youth. I just wish now looking at them that I knew more about her. The her that was still at the beginning of her life.

She died last week, my Aunt Fran. She was in her late nineties and it was time, maybe even beyond time so there weren't too many tears to go around. Still, she is loved. She was a very devout woman which is part of why I wonder so much about the young woman in the pictures. I always thought of Fran as my living guardian angel. She and my Uncle Tony had been unable to have children so my mom and her siblings and the rest of us kids were her surrogates.

Fran had this incredible knack for sending me a note with one of her saint prayer cards and a check at the precise times I needed it. No one told her, she just knew. My used car in the shop again just a few weeks after the last repair and there it would be, a card envelope with her Florida return address. She was generous and kind and I was always grateful for those small reprieves from the consequences of poor student life.

When I moved to California, she sent me prayer cards for those living alone,those living far from family. I am not Catholic but I'd read them knowing she was thinking and praying for me, always on my side. She even would call me laughing telling me she was praying for a husband for me. She was hoping I'd meet someone from Wisconsin so I would move back home. This coming from the woman who moved to Florida far from her own family. She always held one of my hands when I'd see her and talk to her. She had a glint in her eye just like my Grandpa, her brother, did. She'd hang on to every word of my stories, she'd laugh at my mildly off-color jokes.

I liked Fran as much as I loved her. There were more than fifty years separating us but I connected with her, felt like we had things in common I would only recognize later. I knew her well but I still wish I'd known her better.

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Anonymous said... February 10, 2009 at 6:03 AM  

So sorry to hear about your loss. Your aunt sounds like a wonderful lady. From the looks of those pictures she appears to have had a fun and interesting youth. I feel the same way about my grandmother's pictures. I have so many questions but the answers died with her. Part of me wants to start scrapbooking for that very reason. I figure by the time Liv or her kids or her kids' kids start wondering about my photos and the people in them, I will be long gone.

Anonymous said... February 10, 2009 at 7:49 AM  

Those are great pictures! I'm sorry about your aunt. She sounds like a great lady.

Shelley Jaffe said... February 10, 2009 at 8:56 AM  

What a beautiful tribute to your aunt. May her memory serve as a blessing always.

If her timing was so keen that she knew just when to send you all those prayer cards, I'm sure she knows that you are still honoring her with your curiosity.

Anonymous said... February 10, 2009 at 10:43 PM  

I'm so sorry you lost her. But she doesn't sound very "lost". Even though you've got questions, you've also got so many cool memories and stories. She sounds like one great broad.

Gypsy said... February 11, 2009 at 8:40 AM  

I'm so sorry about your loss. It sounds like she was much loved and gave much love in return.

I was visiting my grandmother last week and she showed me a bunch of old pictures, and they're just such treasures. Hold onto them like you'll hold onto the memory of your aunt.

MJ said... February 11, 2009 at 10:42 AM  

A lovely tribute. I'm so sorry for your loss.

I think we always treat the past as if we should have done more. But I think we will always feel this way, no matter how much we really do.

Peace to you.

Bimbo Baggins said... February 11, 2009 at 12:19 PM  

That was a really beautiful post, FF. Sorry for your loss.

Mia Watts said... February 11, 2009 at 8:38 PM  


Heal, ff. May her memory live on in the painted beauty you have evoked. A mighty woman, she. Good on you for immortalizing her.

Anonymous said... February 12, 2009 at 7:21 AM  

I love the photos, there is so much we want to do and say and then life is so short and fragile and there are never the words. Sorry you're aunt has passed away, but it sounds like she's still with you, and has inspired and influenced you in your life. Sometimes family are amazing.

Arizaphale said... February 14, 2009 at 3:21 PM  

Great post. Wonderful photos. I was thinking about oral history yesterday. We still have the tapes we made for my grandparents when we were young. We sent them to the UK at Christmas. We also have the ones they sent back. There is a wealth of history in these tapes. My dad has put a whole bunch of old photos onto the computer for me and after reading this I must ask him more about them and make digital notes.
Wonderful tribute to your Aunt.

~Mountain Lover~ said... February 14, 2009 at 5:22 PM  

I'm so sorry for your loss. She sounds like an amazing woman and a great blessing in your life.


Why did bullet bras ever go out of style?

formerly fun said... February 14, 2009 at 9:54 PM  

Thank you. Arizaphale makes a great suggestion about preserving some of that history while they're alive, notes for pictures, who's who, etc. Scrapbooking looks fun but all my friends I'd do it with are scattered,plus I rarely finish any Martha Stewartesque project unless it's food.

Captain Steve-
Thank you, she was amazing, quite progressive for her day, an odd mix of modern and traditional.

Thank you,funny, it's the photos and the food I remember most. It makes me glad I put so much love into my family meals. My son who's 8 told me a few days ago that he's been craving one of my dishes and I just about ate him up.

Thanks, it's so much easier when they are good and old. She was a pretty modern gal.

When my grandfather got cancer last year, I had my mom ship me my grandparents slide film and pictures they hadn't looked atin over 20 years. My hubs scanned them and put them on disc and I sent him a disc every week or two. My grandma said the whole family(my mom and her sibs etc) would sit down and talk about the pics and laugh. Arizaphale is so right on with detailing some of that info. You could do a really good job with some of thosefamily stories the beautiful way you write.

Thanks MJ,it was much easier because she was old and had a wonderful life. As I get older my world view and general outlook changes and there are things I'd ask her now that I never thought of five years ago and I'm sure ten years from now.

Thanks, she was my great aunt and great she was.

Thanks, I think those kind of moments serve someones memory better than a eulogy sometimes.

Thanks- there are so many other photos that I have stashed somewhere and I've been in a mad search for them because they are so evocative.

You are so right on this one, and you've given me somegreat ideas. One of my hubs businesses is scanning photos, slide film, wtc. for people and sometimes creating movies for special occasions etc., I'm thinking how cool it would be to have notes on old pics or even interspersed video of the family talking about the moment captured in the picture.

Lomg live the bullet bras! You should have seen her kickass tortoise shell horn rim glasses, tres chic now.

A Free Man said... February 15, 2009 at 1:41 AM  

I love these old photos, Chris, particularly the last one with the cameras. I know what you mean, as well, I lost my paternal grandmother a couple of years ago and I wish I had spent more time talking to her before she slipped away. I've still got one left and I make sure to spend time talking to her.

flutter said... February 15, 2009 at 1:16 PM  

This is just so beautiful

Anonymous said... February 15, 2009 at 9:00 PM  

Gorgeous post Chris - those photos are simply beautiful. Love, love, love old black and white pics.

Anonymous said... February 16, 2009 at 11:00 AM  

Such amazing photographs...they tell such a story! Clearly, she was a critical source of the fun in the Not-So-Formerly-Fun.

Not Afraid to Use It said... February 17, 2009 at 7:57 AM  

You are so lucky to have such beautiful photos to remember her by. That spunk just shines through. I am glad you got to know her as an adult. When we love someone so much, I think we often feel we don't know them enough. There is never enough time.

Laura said... February 18, 2009 at 2:27 PM  

That was such a gorgeous post. Sorry for you loss. It's only 9:30am here and now I'm crying. I have photos of this era from my grandmother-- I need to scan them in for safe keeping.

GirlGriot said... February 22, 2009 at 11:13 AM  

I'm so sorry for your loss. Your Aunt Fran sounds like an amazing, inspiring woman. She reminds me of my Aunt Mildred who passed on inauguration day. They seem to have had a lot in common: free spirited, not fitting established molds, becoming a second mother for you and your siblings and your mom, always coming through with the exact right thing at the exact right time ...

I love the photos. The first is my favorite. They all look so proud and confident, like women you'd love to know and hang out with. How lucky you were to have her in your life for so long.

Anonymous said... February 23, 2009 at 10:27 AM  

What a lovely post.

I so wish pictures could talk. Share a bit about the circumstances of those so frozen in a moment in time.

But we are left to fill in the blanks. And sometimes, digging is the best part . . .

Bluestreak said... March 8, 2009 at 1:35 PM  

what a gift to have those pictures. I feel I haven´t gotten to know my own grandparents enough, not asked enough questions.

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