standing on the shoulders of giants.

Updated: Feb 16, 2019


Above the granite-topped buffet adjacent to our kitchen table hangs a group of five pictures. In the center, a sepia-toned canvas print - a photo of my two daughters. In the photo, all you can see is their clasped hands, the ruffles and sparkles of their holiday dresses, and a tiny wisp of my younger daughter's long, blond hair. I adore this photo. It summarizes everything I know to be true about my daughters. They are - and have been from the moment they locked eyes - deeply, irrevocably, eternally bonded.

Surrounding this photograph are images of the women from each of three generations on my mother's side of the family. The women in these images follow my every move through this kitchen. They are silent witnesses to every family dinner, every homework session, every afternoon my children spend immersed in play-doh and fingerpaint. They've seen plenty of spats and even more hugs and kisses. They never judge, they simply smile benevolently on us.

On the top left, my great-grandmother, Della Tarver Dixon Vaughn, when she was about sixteen years old. A friend once saw that picture hanging in my childhood home and asked my mom where they got that cool old-fashioned photo of me. In the oval framed portrait, a profile, she looks peaceful, staring into the distance, contemplating her future, perhaps. At that age she had no way of knowing the great joys or the depths of tragedy that lay ahead of her.

Below Grandma Vaughn hangs a picture of her youngest daughter, my grandmother Bobbie Dixon Harrison, on her wedding day. She is probably the most beautiful creature I've ever laid eyes on - black, curly hair crowned with a white veil that hangs to her shoulders, lips cherry red, cheeks glowing, her gloved hands holding a delicate bouquet of flowers. The ceremony appears to have taken place in the living room of her mother's home - I recognize the mantle, even through the standing sprays of white lillies all around. After she died we found all the love letters my grandfather sent her before they wed. Whatever ravages time may have wrought on their love story, the heart of it was pure and true and that vein flowed through to the very end of their lives.

To the top right, a picture of my mom and her sister when they were maybe five and three, respectively. They have pin curls and impossibly short bangs, and the sweetest most innocent smiles. I recognize the gap between my mom's two front teeth - I see it every time my older daughter smiles. Mom lives in Israel now, and my aunt in South Georgia. I can still hear their laughter, probably my most favorite and familiar childhood sound. Now, though, it comes from a distant room, one I can't quite find my way into.

To tell each of their stories would require an entire novel, and there are days when I wonder if it is one I should be writing. They are a part of me as much as I am a product of them. I feel so deeply connected to them, to their immense love for one another, and for me. Yet there is a generation that is missing.

On the bottom right...well, that's where my picture is supposed to go. I haven't yet found one I feel is right for this wall. These women - my great grandmother, my grandmother, my aunt, my mother, and my daughters - they have made me the woman I am today. Not a word is uttered, not an action undertaken, not a sentence written, that doesn't flow from and through them and out of me. If every picture tells a story, then whatever image I find of myself to frame and hang amongst them, my hope is that the story it tells is "Thank you."


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Florida, United States of America