Rome, 1961 MAG

By Stephanie, Milford, CT

     On stone steps in Rome stand a cluster of women, clad in the plaid and polka-dotted pleated dresses of 1961, their skirts billowing from thick waists with tan stockings creeping down their legs into white sandals. Blouses swell to cover large Irish bosoms, and sweaters drape over their rounded shoulders. The women clutch hats and cotton scarves and pocketbooks modestly to their bellies, and big reflecting sunglasses adorn faces of a few whose set mouths and indifferent chins are tilted toward the invisible sun.

One woman points at something to the right of the photograph; the memory of a smile on her lips and one unhidden cheek. The crowd, even those in front of her, have turned their heads expectantly where she points. Their faces and their straight postures speak anticipation. In their minds they have already climbed the dirtied shallow steps of the city bus, fished through pocketbooks for change, and found their seats, patted their hair self-consciously, fixed their sweaters around their shoulders, and nodded to one another.

My nana stands on the fringe of the crowd. There's something in her posture - in the thick white sash around her waist, in the clean high-heeled shoes against the stone of the step, in the boxy pocketbook hanging from her arm, and scarf that hangs in graceful folds, and the tilt of her face toward the invisible bus, and her permed hair blown off her forehead - that gives her a gentle beauty and sets her apart. Somehow the lines of her face seem less drawn; they fade into each other glamorously as in a foggy photograph of a Hollywood sweetheart. There is something round and lovely and familiar about her face, and when I cover her chin with my forefinger, I see my father's nose and eyes in the deep caves behind her eyebrows.

A young boy stands in the corner of the picture. Behind my nana, next to his dark-haired sister is my father, age 10, with damp hair combed over his forehead. His collar is boyishly open, his ears stick out. He is the only one who seems to be aware that the moment is being discreetly recorded, and he gazes out from the photograph with eyebrows slightly furrowed, brown eyes distrusting. His body and one cheek are hidden as he stares out of the past into the present, whatever present it is when a photo is taken from a trunk and gazed upon.

My father travels decades in his untrusting gaze; he has left these women waiting for their bus in the summer of 1961. And now I wonder just how many of these stylish and sturdy women remain, how many have passed on, and no longer cast shadows, except for these shadows they throw on the stone steps of photographs. My nana is gone; her noontime shadow is short beneath her white shoes.

In seconds, on this summer day in Rome in 1961, the stone steps are abandoned and bare, and my father is shuttled into a future that in some untraceable pattern of turns will mold my existence. And in the present I sit. I stare at my 10-year-old father, wondering why his eyes do not trust the future.

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i love this so much!


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