The Only Photo of the Four of Us
© 2014, Gadi Bossin
P.O. Box 20
Kiryat Bialik, Israel
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author.
This book is an updated version of a narrative I wrote over 20 years ago.
I have rewritten it for my now grown children: Roni, Rinat (and my son-in-law, Yoni) and Keren.
It’s also for Lia, my granddaughter, who will celebrate her fifth birthday in less than a month.
THE ONLY PHOTO OF THE FOUR OF US
My parents, your grandparents, died decades ago.
My mother succumbed to myasthenia gravis—a rare disease—at age 31 in 1949 and my father to intestinal cancer when he was 63 in 1978.
My sister, your Auntie Sharma, passed away in 2002 at age 62, also a cancer victim.
I’m now 67 years old and the lone survivor of our nuclear family of four.
All I have left of my parents and sister are memories and a family photo album I put together sometime just before I left Toronto in 1965.
For years now this family photo album—it’s the one with the red and yellow flower design on its front and back covers—has literally been coming unglued at the top and the bottom of its spine while the middle somehow has continued to adhere and has maintained its integrity.
It’s not as if the album has been overused.
I’ve opened it rarely over the years.
There have probably been years when I didn’t look at it even once.
Sometimes the album has had a place of honor in our home in easily accessible drawers or cabinets.
Sometimes it’s been relegated to a box in the storage area above our rooms, requiring that I pull out the ladder and boost myself into the crawl space in order to contemplate the photos in it.
It has traveled with me from Canada to Israel and back and then to Texas and back to Canada and then to Israel again and then to Ohio and Illinois and finally back here to Israel one last time.
The final photo in the album is one of me and Cousin Larry.
We’re descending the steps from the front porch of the house at 126 Anthony Road in Downsview where Uncle Aubie, Auntie Pearl and Cousins Larry, Gwen and Michael had lived since the early 1950’s.
There is no inscription on the back of the photo, but I’m quite certain it was taken during my final year in Toronto.
The album’s first page displays eight photos.
All told, there are 78 photos on the fronts and backs of the ten leaves throughout the album.
I counted them.
The first two photos on the first page are two head shots of my father.
One is from when he was about 15 years old. He’s not smiling, but his features are even and it’s easy to see he was very handsome as a youth.
When I look at that photo, I wonder what he was thinking when it was shot. Was he apprehensive about what life had in store for him? Was he upset that he knew he would have to leave school the following year and go out and get a job to earn some money to help his parents?
The second head shot was taken maybe 20 years later. My mother is already gone. Dad is wearing a windbreaker. I think I remember it. It was tan-colored with a dark brown collar.
Here, once again, he’s not smiling.
Despite his somewhat receding hairline, he’s still handsome. But his eyes are sad. He looks broken, world-weary and tired, emotionally and in every other way.
The rest of the page features shots of Dad and my mother.
Two are from one of those machines where you can draw a curtain and sit together and get four snapshots.
Dad has a tough-guy look on his face.
Mummy smiles softly, without showing her teeth. She’s early-twenties lovely. In the second photo she smiles again, opening her mouth part way this time.
One of the other photos is of my mother sitting on a swing in a municipal park playground with my father standing behind her. Here she’s smiling broadly. He’s smiling, too, but without opening his mouth. They look happy.
There’s an inscription in my mother’s handwriting:
“Bob and Mae, 1940.” It’s summertime, so it’s already a few months after my sister Sharma was born in April.
The other photographs on the page are all from that same day in the park.
My father stands alone next to a slide. My parents sit together on a carousel, my mother on my father’s knee. And in the most dramatic photo, the two of them are posed in each other’s arms, my mother on my father’s right knee, his other knee on the ground, and they gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes.
This is two years after their wedding on the 12th of June 1938.
Not to worry, I’m not going to tell the stories of all the photos in the album.
I couldn’t do that if I tried.
They are all shots of family—aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents—and of a few friends as well. I can identify all the members of the family, but I never knew the names of the friends.
Most of the photos are groupings of three or four or more people, some are of two people at a time, and there are a few of individuals, including pictures of me standing up in my playpen, during the summer of my first year.
I know because it’s outside and I’m wearing shorts with an overall-style front with straps and my upper body, apart from the straps, is bare.
But I brought this album to your attention now to describe and reflect upon the photo that for me is the one around which all the other photos in the album revolve, as the Earth and the other planets in our solar system revolve around the Sun.
It’s a photograph of your grandparents and your aunt and me, the only one in my possession and the only one I’ve ever discovered of the four of us. Over the years, whenever I’ve contemplated this photograph, I’ve wondered if another was ever taken by someone, somewhere, at anytime.
This black-and-white photograph is from my first summer, the summer of 1947.
My parents and sister and I were at the cottage in the Laurentian Mountains, north of Montreal, with my grandparents—Pa and Bubbe Gitl—and my aunts and uncles and cousins.
Dad is sitting in a lawn chair. Sharma is on his right knee. I’m sitting with my legs astraddle Dad’s neck. Mummy is standing behind the lawn chair, holding on to me with both hands.
I’ve got a fistful of Dad’s hair. Dad’s right arm is bent at the elbow and he’s got a hold of me, too, supporting my back. His left hand circles Sharma’s left arm above her elbow.
Mummy and Dad and Sharma are smiling squinty-eyed at the camera.
I’m smiling, too, but looking down at the handful of Dad’s hair I’m wrestling with. It looks like I’m amused and laughing.
Sharma’s wearing a lightweight summer dress. It’s sleeveless and has a thin, dark-colored ribbon just under the neckline. It ends above her knees.
She has on buckled shoes with white socks that rise to two or three inches above her ankles.
Dad is wearing slacks and a striped short-sleeved polo shirt. I remember that polo shirt from later years. It was beige with blue stripes.
He’s wearing a wristwatch on his left wrist. The watch is blurred in the picture, but I know that watch, too.
When I was a boy, I used to play with it. Over and over, I would reread the flowing, scrolled inscription: From Mae, Sharma & Gary to Bob with all our love.
I used to marvel at how the engraver got all of those words on the back of the watch.
But most important to me was that all of us were there on that small surface:
Mummy and Sharma and me and Dad, together, just like in the photo.
You can’t really see what I’m wearing.
I’m hidden behind Sharma’s head and Dad’s, too.
But you can see my chubby baby fat arms and my hair with wavy bangs almost over my eyes, flowing down to the nape of my neck.
Mummy has on a loose-fitting cotton blouse with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows.
She looks so beautifully comfortable, standing there with her family, the one she had always dreamed of and longed for: her husband, her daughter, her baby son.
She’s hunched over just a bit, protectively grasping me from both sides, stomach high. Despite her squinting, she’s smiling broadly as she did in that playground picture in 1940 on the swing with my father behind her.
The smile lines on her face are clear, even in the blurred photograph. You can see her cheeks, round and prominent, her full parted lips, her teeth flashing white, her joy in the moment, her radiance, her warmth.
I have had this family picture in my possession all my life.
But it was only after I was grown and on my own that Sharma put another album together for me—she was the keeper of the family photo archives—and it was then I understood that what I had suspected was true was indeed true:
This photograph from the summer of 1947, from my first summer, was and would forever be the only photo of the four of us.