photograph

I remember a certain photograph that hangs on the living room wall in my parents’ house. With its ornate frame it draws the eye, much bigger than anything around it, despite my brother’s propensity to paint - and then force my parents to hang – huge landscapes full of mountains and dragons.

My grandmother and grandfather look out of this photo, their stern glances betraying not the slightest bit of joy at the occasion of their wedding. They stand there, backs straight and arms by their sides, my grandmother’s dress hanging in folds and just skimming her black boots, my grandfather’s suit looking stiff as a board, the collar too high to be really comfortable, the cuffs hanging just below his wrists, but not low enough to cover his work worn hands, roughened from running a tobacco farm in the heat of far North Queensland.

My mother’s tales are full of the misdeeds of her siblings and herself, tales that to my young ears sounded better than anything out of Enid Blyton. Five brothers and sisters creating havoc, each story ending with a punishment meted out by a parent with far too much to do, not enough time and too many children. I tried to reconcile these parents with the old people I knew, who made endless cups of tea, read the paper and sometimes read my brother a story or played a game with me.

They died when I was about seven years old. With a young child’s eye I picture my grandmother in a yellow dress, slippers on her feet and a face full of deep wrinkles, especially when she smiled. There was a lifetime between the photo hanging on the living room wall and the yellow dress.

My mother still tells stories of the escapades of her brothers and sisters, but now she tells them to my young daughter, who sits and listens as if hearing a fairy story or a tale about the mountains and dragons in my brother’s paintings and not the children of two stiff people in an old photo.

My grandparents still look down sternly from their ornate frame and their eyes still follow me around the room when we visit. But when my daughter sees this photo she thinks of kangaroos, of climbing trees and of her own grandparents, two loving people who mean the world to her, whether standing in the same room or half a world away.


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