Cannot get this image out of my mind. It was the first thing my consciousness landed on as I awoke this morning, after getting the purring cat off of me and into the kitchen and fed. Clark the cat has many strategies to get himself fat again: they vary from biting my toe to wake me up (rare, since I have learned not to leave a toe exposed during sleep), to walking up and down my torso until I wake up, or to just putting his feet on my chest and sitting next to my shoulder and purring in my ear. Of all the methods, that is my preferred wake up call.
Back to the photo, which my aunt emailed to me yesterday, after having mentioned it at the previous week’s family zoom “quarantini.. The story from my aunt is that the grown up Quinn siblings got their little kids together in the Valley Road backyard in northern New Jersey one summer afternoon, in the house where they all grew up and where grandpa still lived at the time, in the upstairs apartment. The idea was to line us all up in order of height. I was probably about 22 months old at the time.
Of course I was too young to have formed any lasting conscious memories of this particular event, though there are shadows that lurk, I can’t be sure if they were from this day visiting New Jersey, or other subsequent visits over the years. Likely we would have driven the 2.5 hours down the New York State Thruway that morning, my Dad driving an aging white Oldsmobile with rust around the fenders, chain smoking and cursing at the other drivers at the top of his lungs once he got onto the Jersey Turnpike (“Roadhog!” “Cut ME off, will you? I’ll cut you off back you goddamn……”). My Mom would have dressed us up as nicely as possible for a hot summer outing. She in a light pink gingham summer dress, her own hair was as fine and straight as mine, she must have slept in plastic curlers to get the volume and curl that can be seen in the hairdo behind me, as she holds me in place to get the planned photo. And my sister, three years older, always got the new pretty dress, and I was always in hand me downs. Those shoes went through more than one set of tiny feet by the looks of them….
Anyway, it looks like this wall of cousins photo was not going to happen until my mother decided to forcibly hold me in my place as the just slightly youngest and possibly the shortest, though perhaps I wasn’t shorter than my cousin and that’s what I’m objecting to. It’s almost like I’m her proxy in this photo, or her prisoner, or I’m her inner child materialized. Clearly I as an individual had no agency in this situation. No toddler really does have any power, except to throw a tantrum to say “NO.” No, I don’t want to do this, no I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to wear this pink dress, and I don’t want to wear these shoes. I want to be barefoot and in sleeveless overalls like my tow-headed cousin. Why can’t I climb around in the dirt like he was? Why can’t I pull worms out of the garden rows and throw them at people like he got to do, and get laughs and smiles for it? What is this word “ladylike” and what on earth has it got to do with ME???
But my Mom got her way, as she usually did. I am in the photo, immortalized as the cranky toddler, future freedom fighter, never again to be captured in a photo wearing a pink dress with white shoes.
But why has this photo stuck with me overnight, the first thought I had waking up? I still identify with this feeling, particularly now during the pandemic. I feel like I want to just cry and wail and say No! I do not want to be restricted, held in place, lined up against a wall…. No! I want to be free.
I guess we can all relate….