Opinion: When your grandma thinks your auntie looks dead in a photo

Tracey Folly

*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a woman who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.

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Photo by author Tracey Folly/personal collection

This is the photo that caused my grandmother so much grief. From left to right, my youngest aunt with her eyes closed, my handsome grandfather, my oldest aunt, my adorably sour-faced mother, my uncle, and my second cousin.

When my grandmother came back to America where she was born, it was very hard on her. She could not bring her family with her. So she came all by herself.

It would be nearly two years before her children would see her again. She had to save money, and draw up the paperwork all in due time.

Because my grandmother had left a two-year-old daughter, a six-year-old daughter, a ten-year-old daughter, and a seventeen-year-old son in the old country, plus her husband, she missed her family. She was very lonely without them.

One day, my grandfather received a letter back home in the Azores. Inside the letter, he found some money. Even though you weren't supposed to send currency through the mail, my grandmother did it all the time to support her family overseas.

According to the letter, my grandmother wanted her children and her husband to go to the photographer to take a picture and send it to her in the United States. She wanted to see her family again.

The picture shows my grandfather, my mother, my two aunts, my uncle, and a young woman who was my mother's cousin. The young woman was taking care of the kids while my grandmother was alone in the United States.

They all put on their best clothes and went to the photographer to have their picture taken. My youngest aunt was being fussy that day, and she kept asking for my oldest aunt's pocketbook.

To make her little sister happy, my oldest aunt let her play with her pocketbook; they didn't have toys because they were too poor. The pocketbook would have to suffice as a plaything at least until they took the picture. They couldn't have my littlest aunt fussing while they were having their photo taken.

When the photographer snapped the picture, the youngest member of the family looked down at the purse. She mistook the sound of the photographer's camera shutter for the sound of the clasp on the pocketbook and looked down to investigate.

In the photo, my aunt's downcast eyes appear closed. When my grandmother received the photo in the mail, she thought my aunt looked dead.

My grandmother did nothing but cry after she received the photo. She thought her baby girl had died and that my grandfather had propped her up for the picture, which wasn't the case. My aunt lived well into her seventies.

She tore up the photograph and threw it away.

When the entire family arrived in America, my grandmother felt shocked to learn that her baby daughter wasn't dead after all. She was alive and well, and my grandmother finally had her entire family—her entire family—together again. My grandmother also had another copy of the photograph that my grandfather had packed into his luggage. The photograph sits on a bookshelf in the home where I live.

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