Photo at age 6: My mother is in a dark wool coat, with ivory, fuzzy collar and cuffs and a matching tam. She wears baggy, ivory woolen stockings and black leather lace-ups. She's leaning, fondly, on a huge, curvy white wicker baby carriage, which I believe contained my cousin Abby, who grew up to be the bejewelled, buxom, much-married and eternally glamourous Elizabeth Taylor of the Bloom family (and of the Blume family -- my uncle changed it out of some misguided sense of upward mobility).
My mother's misgiving is revealed in her dubious glance, which is not uncharacteristic, even now. She has the same wide face and dark brows for the next 74 years of photographs, and if you get tired of looking at her, you have only to look at photos of me and my daughters. We have the more assimilated noses and my girls have the more goyisheh eyebrows and only my youngest daughter has my mother's astonishing skin, magnolia-blossom skin, which was smooth until she was in her mid-60s.
Photo at age 20: My mother is sleeping on her bunk at Brookwood Camp. She is ridiculously lovely, like an exquisite infant, and I want to stop the world right here. Why should she have to have and lose children, suffer disappointment, arthritis, mortality? Her dark curls tumble about the pillow and a loose grosgrain ribbon lies among them. She sleeps as I sleep, head at the edge of the pillow, left arm flung protectively over right shoulder.
On the little wooden table beside her is a coil of worn clothing -- my mother's bra and T-shirt -- and the casualness of the rumpled clothing is erotic, moving and reassuring. We are a long line of untidy women and it has always been a comfort to know that the thought of checking my furniture for dust and my pantry for order would no more occur to my mother than would hang-gliding or making a pie from scratch.
Photo at age 24: This is the killer. My mother the movie star. Makes Betty Grable look sick. Makes Ava Gardner look to her heels. Sleek, glossy dark waves. Slightly slanted hazel eyes (my sister and I make do with tinted lenses), long black lashes. Peach skin over high cheekbones and that wide jaw. Outrageous, bodice-ripper lips painted dark red. Snug black blouse over discreet but unmistakably great breasts. Resistance heroine, Madame President, White House correspondent -- all the lives I would have liked for her to have are almost possible in this picture.
Photo at age 40: My mother's hair is shorter, worn in a '60s updo and more auburn than it's been (but darker than it will be when she makes the leap to the middle-aged russet and ash blond that seems to appeal to dark-haired women when they begin to gray). She looks like a very successful queen of some Russian-French feminist empire -- kind to her subjects, cruel to her enemies and confident in her consorts.
She chose the fabric for that gown, as she did for all those ballgowns, and Mrs. Whosie, the seamstress in Great Neck, sewed a column of dark blue and gold cut-velvet flowers on a sheer dull gold net -- and around her wide, white shoulders, over the still-beautiful breasts, a stole of dark-blue satin.
These seem to me to be my mother's true selves, utterly separate from her life as mother, almost invisible to her children, as real as uncut gems.