Remember the classical Greek myth about Pandora, the little girl who couldn’t contain her curiosity? She was granted every wish by her loving parents, except her wish to look inside a box in their room they had warned her never to open. But she just had to know what was in it. So one day when they weren’t home, she peeked in the box. As soon as she lifted the lid, all the troubles in the world flew out. And life was never the same again.
I recently came across a small box covered in faded flowered paper that had fallen behind some books in my office bookcase. It had been my mother’s. At one time, she used to cover little boxes that came her way with prettily patterned paper, to make them more decorative before she put something in them.
I hadn’t opened this box in ages. Unlike Pandora, I did more or less suspect what was inside. I thought my mother might have kept in it small photographs I had sent her when we were living on separate coasts, mainly duplicates of photos I already had. But perhaps it held something else. In any event, from the feel of it, the box was definitely not empty. I was curious to look inside.
With one exception, it was filled with pictures taken between 1962 and 1965. (What my mother may have thought of as my glory years.) That one exception dates from January or February 1932. I am the toothless little person in the angora hat on the left:
I don’t know that baby. And I barely remember the woman — young proud mother — who is holding her. Nothing at all comes back when I look at the picture. So it’s a safe zone.
But the other pictures? Like Pandora, I should have left them in the box. Or in my memory of when they were taken. Remembering the past may be pleasurable. Actually seeing the changes that time has wrought is not.
Here, for instance, I am in 1962, age thirty-one, visiting my parents in southern California. My father took these two photos. How young I look to myself now! How sophisticated I thought I was then — a divorcee with life experience, in her clinging New York black dress, clean white cotton gloves, and heavily teased and sprayed hair. (Life experience? I hadn’t seen nothing yet.)
Moving on, here I am on the beach at East Hampton the following summer, which was fifty and a half years ago, searching — successfully — for a father for my future children. My future second husband, who I met there and with whom I was entirely candid about my goals, said that would be okay. He’d just see me until I found the right man. So I wouldn’t be lonely while looking. Oh the games we mortals play!
Yes, we bronzed ourselves with impunity in those days, oiling and baking in the sun for hours on summer weekends so as to look glamorous in pastel linen at the office during the week! Nary a thought for future brown spots, melanomas, crinkled skin. Tomorrow never comes, right?
[Which teaches us that there are occasional exceptions to “Now is now” as a principle to live by.]
There are no photos in the little flowered box after September 1965. As far as my mother was concerned, my wedding and honeymoon in that month concluded the story. A happy ending for her miscreant divorced daughter at last.
Here are just a couple of the honeymoon snaps. We do look happy, the new bride and groom on honeymoon in Bermuda:
Two years later, my mother began saving photos of my children, not me. And not in the same box. Since she really did believe getting married ended a woman’s story, it’s just as well she closed her flowered box with Bermuda.
Because after the wedding and the honeymoon preserved by photo inside her box, all the real troubles in my world began. And life was never the same again.