A young woman is given a gift from her grandmother that turns out to be much more than what it appears to be.
Is your past, really your past at all?
Fall in love all over again with "Timing Is Everything-Origin Of The Journal"
A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words; except, of course when it isn’t. Tom Collins, the top photographer for National Geographic last year made better than a million dollars. That averages out to about two thousand dollars per usable picture he took. Pierre Marcoullier over at Vogue brought in something comparable. These guys are artists and adventurers at the top of their field, but they’d be the first to tell you that the value in a picture has to do with a lot more than lighting and shadow and perspective. A photo of your dead grandfather at his eightieth birthday might not even make the local newspaper, but if it’s one of only a few photos that exist of the man because he was shy, then for your family it’s literally priceless. Likewise, some of the classic photos that we have of historical figures or events are of really poor quality, but because they record something that’s part of our collective history, Lincoln at Gettysburg, say, or the “Tank Man” at Tiananmen Square, they’re worth more than money can buy. Most photos, though, literally 99.9% of those ever taken are not worth anything on their own, either based on artistic merit or historical significance. But in the hands of the right marketer and designer, they’re solid gold.
That’s what I do—I deploy photographs for advertising purposes at a major Manhattan marketing firm. Most of the photos I wind up using are not taken by professionals, or at least no one more professional than might have taken your senior picture; they’re uploaded to PBase or Flickr or any of a couple hundred other image databases, and if they’re copyrighted then we pay twenty-five or fifty or a hundred bucks a pic. But then, with a little careful editing and some clever design work, that picture helps to make my clients millions. Of course, we do use some professional photographers, and if I can’t find just the right image after hours of looking I might commission a shoot or take a few shots myself, but most of what I do is look at what other people have done and imagine how it can be used for some purpose they could never have dreamed of when they did it.
That is, I suppose, why at Christmastime last year my grandma gave me the scrapbook. Now I know what you’re thinking and I was too, I’m about as far away from a scrapbooking grandmother as they come, but Grandma had something of the artist’s eye and the marketer’s spirit in her too—she’d designed the endcaps and window displays at Gimbel’s for years—and she understood, at least in principle, what it was I was trying to do. So, after the regular family gift exchange, and the obligatory large meal, while most everyone else was catching an afternoon nap, she called me into her bedroom.
“Kelly,” she said, patting the bed beside her and speaking in a conspiratorial whisper. “I’ve got something else for you, but I didn’t want to do it in front of the rest of the family.”
I nodded my head and closed the door, then darted over to the bed with perhaps just a little too much glee.
“What is it, Gran?” She’d done things like this before, but it was mostly concerning my quirky sense of fashion or what my painfully conventional mother had always called an “artistic temperament”.
She held out a bundle wrapped in old butcher paper and tied up with twine. I looked at her skittishly and rolled my eyes but she just smirked and waved for me to open it up. Inside was, as I said, a scrapbook; well, I suppose it was something like a pre-scrapbook. It was a simple leather-bound journal, obviously with some age on it, and I could see from the way the pages bulged that there were photos pasted or clipped or taped inside. I looked at her again asking a question with my eyes, and she answered in kind, indicating I should open it up.
Inside the front page sat a single photo, centered more or less perfectly, and clearly pasted to the paper. It showed a simple little cottage which had clearly been built in two sections; the roof over one side appeared to be thatch, the other was corrugated iron. Standing out front were three young women: the eldest appeared to be about sixteen, while the others were probably fourteen and twelve. The younger girls were in plain dresses, probably homemade; one had a kerchief on her head, and the other had taken it off and tied it around her neck. Between the two, her arms around their shoulders was the eldest girl, looking very mature in a skirt-suit and hat, her hair stylishly done beneath and a prim little purse in one hand hanging off of the younger girl’s shoulder. Beneath was a caption which in neat, handwritten cursive simply read, “Leaving Home, 1945” and beneath it, “Clifden, Co. Galway, Ireland”.
“That was the day I left home,” she said. “I actually added that one later, after your Aunt Mickaela sent the photo by post. International mail used to take ages back in those days.”
I nodded my head absently as I turned the page. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw.
There’s a famous picture of a sailor kissing a nurse out in front of Radio City Music Hall on V-J Day. It’s iconic and is shown in most World War II documentaries and such. Like a lot of the photos I mentioned before, it’s artistic value is questionable: the couple are slightly off-center, his hand is obscuring almost all of her face, it’s not clear if she’s really into it (she wasn’t as it turned out, but his enthusiasm was probably understandable); but it captured a moment in history unlike any other, and the enthusiasm on the sailor’s face is attractive to us still today, so it seems to work.
Sitting there, on the second page of my grandma’s old scrapbook was the Irish version of that same image. They were out in front of a Dunne’s Department Store, I thought I might’ve even recognized it from my trips back home with Gran. The man was wearing a British military uniform, but that wasn’t unusual given Irish neutrality during the war. The woman was not wearing a nurse’s uniform, but in fact the same skirt-suit as in the previous picture. And the most startling thing of all was not that she was kissing a man just back from the war, nor even that the man wasn’t may grandad (he had fought but was already living over here), but that she was doing the kissing.
“Gran!” I cried out in a stage whisper. “Who is this?”
She giggled to herself. “I haven’t the foggiest idea! I didn’t at the time either. But when I arrived at the port at Cobh to take my passage to America, there was a ship arriving with soldiers left to help clean up in France after the war. Most had been gone for three or four years; many had families waiting for them, everyone was kissing, and I saw this poor fella all by his lonesome, and I figured he deserved at least as warm a homecoming as the rest.” She flushed slightly.
I looked back and forth between her and the picture. “But where did you get this one from? Surely your sisters didn’t send this too”
“Ah, Gawd no!” She laughed to herself. “No, I went off to Cobh by myself; mother said it would be easier that way. No, I found this in a back copy of the Irish Times they were using to wrap fish and chips at the AOH Hall where I met your Granddad.”
I laughed, beginning to flip through the book more generally. “Hang on here, Gran,” I said. “The captions stop.”
Now the real grin came out. I knew when she got that twinkle in her eye that she was up to something, and she could barely suppress her delight.
“That’s the whole point. At first I was going to try and document my journey to America, how I made my life here, and how I built my family. But then, after I saw that picture in the old newspaper, I saw how my life could have been different. So I started collecting pictures that didn’t fit; any shot that showed a turning point or time where life went one way but could have gone another. And when your Granddad or the kids would drive me too nuts, or the work at Gimbel’s would just seem too much, I’d pull this out and indulge in a little fantasizing.”
“And what did Grandpa think of all this?”
She chuckled to herself. “He never knew.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Seriously?”
She bobbed her head like a doll on a dashboard. “Absolutely. I kept no other secrets from your grandad. I was faithful to him for more than sixty years. But to keep the peace in our relationship I kept this scrapbook and every couple of months I’d pull this out and spend an afternoon just…imagining.”
I was moved, not only by the gift but by her trust in me. Impulsively I leaned forward and hugged her tight. She grunted slightly.
“Thank you, Gran.” I let her go and sat back. I looked down at the book. “What do you want me to do with it? Add my own pictures?”
Gran shook her head. “Of course not. Do what you do?”
“What I do?”
“What is it you call it?” She gave me that smirk again. “Deploy the pictures?”
“You want me to use them in ads?”
“If you can make any money off of them, then they’ll have done us both some good. If not, at least use them as I did, to imagine…other things.” Her voice lilted at the end and we laughed over it together.
I reached forward and hugged her again. This time, as we released, she leaned forward and gave me a kiss on the forehead.
“I love you, Dearie.”
“I love you too, Gran.”
And that was the last time we ever spoke. She was dead by the New Year.
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About the Author
Sitting in a chair, at a desk with headphones on, typing away...
That’s where you’ll find Sybil Shae most days. She loses track of time and reality as she dives into her romance world, becoming one with her characters and growing with them as they appear through words on the tablet screen in concert with the imagery of a fool’s paradise we all visit in our dreams.
Sybil Shae writes romance, both spicy romance reads and clean reads. She feels it, breathes it, and has built her world around it. Love is at the center of all things.
Welcome to Sybil’s world.
Sybil Shae DOES NOT write Erotica by any means, even the Spicy parts aren't as spicy as most others on the market. She writes with Love as the central plot rather than adult content.