Technically speaking, the photo on the left is not a good one. It’s out of focus, badly lit and the unruly hedge in the foreground is compromising an already precarious composition – the unmistakable handiwork of my father. I’m the chubby three-year-old in the middle with the terrible haircut. On my right, under the mailbox sits my mother, and to my left is her mother, my yiayia as we say in Greek.
The haircut is partially Yiayia’s fault. She took me along with her to the beauty salon and lost track of my whereabouts shortly after being escorted to the shampoo station. I wandered off to explore the salon and was fascinated by the endless chairs and lighted mirrors that lined the walls. I sat down in one of those chairs, and a nice woman approached me and asked if I wanted a haircut. I said yes, and she began cutting, but she must have assumed that I was a boy, because she left more hair on the floor than she did on my head.
Yiayia, having eyed the last moments of my unfortunate shearing, ran across the salon with her styling cape still fastened around her neck, yelling in Greek, “What on Earth have you done? Your mother is going to kill me!” My grandmother is a gentle and nurturing woman who seldom raises her voice, so I knew I had done something wrong, though I did not know what. I thought I was being a lady like she was.
I discovered this picture quite randomly when I was fifteen. The film adaptation of Milan Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being had been released on VHS, and due to its sexually explicit content, I was not allowed to rent the video… but I could buy the book. At that age, Kundera’s musings on Nietzsche’s idea of eternal return were leagues beyond my scope of life experience and philosophical understanding, but I hung in as long as I could.
One night, after faithfully plodding though a few pages, I needed a bookmark (I never dog-ear pages). This picture of mother, daughter and granddaughter happened to be lying on a table nearby, so I tucked it into the book without much thought or sentiment. I gave up on the book shortly thereafter, intending to revisit it sometime when it might make better sense to me.
When I moved into my first off-campus apartment during college, The Unbearable Lightness of Being was one of the books I brought from home. I took it off the shelf one day, fanned the pages and noticed a piece of paper nestled in the binding. To my delight, it was the photo of Mom and Yiayia and me on the porch. The memories of that time joyfully flooded in as I looked at it for a moment before replacing it in the book for safe keeping. Whenever I missed my family or needed a pick-me-up, all I had to do was turn to that book, and my mom and grandmother were with me.
My copy of The Unbearable Lightness of Being is now twenty years old, and for twenty years it has been home to that picture. Once I scan the photo for this post, back it will go, and there it will stay.Read More...