Friday, April 03, 2015


Portrait of a lady

The other day I went looking in my archive of old family pictures that I'd scanned. I was looking for a specific picture of my Dad with my boys  (didn't  find it) but stumbled over a nice set of portraits of my sister and I. Peg would have been about 18, and I would have been about 12. Her high school graduation picture.  They were originally sepia toned, and my parents had paid an artist to hand tint them.

I remembered them from my parents' living room, I also remembered hating them with a passion.  At 61, I couldn't remember why... then I looked at them again. It was the eyes. The artist, at my mother's request, had recolored my green eyes to blue because it would "be prettier"  and "make Peg and I look more alike" He'd aslo tinted our hair to the same shade....Peg's. That wasn't accurate, either. Mine was much lighter at that age. I was, if snapshots can be believed, a pale ash blonde. Peg was a medium honey blonde.

When I first saw the finished portraits, at all of 12, I went ballistic and cried every time I went into the living room because there was no support for changing the color of my eyes or hair to match reality. I was probably being a bit of a brat, but I was hurt and mad that I, apparently, wasn't pretty enough the way I really was.

It might have been the first time I realized that my mother felt that way, but it would in no way be the last.

Today, I can see the situation a little more from her perspective. Oh, It was still dumb and pretty darned insensitive, but, I was being a typical tween drama queen. The eyes were probably 2 square inches of a 13x19 portrait...Maybe the artist just sucked at his job.

Mom never understood why it was so important to me. The snit wasn't really about the picture, but what the picture said about my relationship with my mother. Even at 12, I knew she felt I was a disappointment. I spent the rest of her life trying to convince her otherwise. I failed. but not for lack of effort.

I haven't felt like that brokenhearted 12 year old in a long time.... the little girl who would be prettier if she looked more like her older sister....  I looked at some more of the pictures...At age 7, in her first communion dress, she is the tiny one in the first row. They called Peg the Mighty Mite. In mine, at just barely 6, I am the one a head taller than the tallest boys.

At 12, I was already taller than my 18 year old sister. I probably had 30 IQ points on her, too, but, that didn't endear me to my Mom. Nothing seemed to. Even when she would say she loved loved me, it would seem that it was in spite of who I was, not because of it.

In the last year of her life, my mother's sister told me things my mother had confided in her. Things I had always suspected, but could never confirm. Nothing earth shattering like I had been switched at birth (though I had wondered about stuff like that, too) but mom's fears and doubts about having a fourth child, about her age, about the difference in age between me and my siblings...(my brother was in college when I was in first grade) It both broke my heart and freed me from the guilt and doubt that had haunted me all my life. Why was being who I was not enough, never enough? Who was the girl she wanted to see, and why couldn't she see me? Why didn't we have the closeness other mothers and daughters seem to have? that she and my sister had?

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