We’re supposed to bring a favourite photo to memoir class today. “Show and Tell for Oldies.” I think I’ll just say I forgot. Everyone forgets everything around here. Actually, I do have one right here in my purse, but I don’t know if I can show it to anyone.
I knew right away which one I’d bring. This morning when I took it out of my prayer book, I felt this great urge to hold it up and shout out his name — Anthony James Wellman — to say it aloud, just this once. That’s when I thought maybe I could mention him. Just once. Problem is I’m afraid that if I begin talking, I may never stop.
Here he is. He’d be 54 years, 8 months, and 2 days old today, but of course I still think of him like this in his little blue bathing suit and his favourite hat, licking an ice-cream cone. My, he did love that hat. You can’t tell with this old black and white snap, but it was pale blue with a red ribbon. Funny for a child so young to care about a hat.
If I do show them, I’ll just say he was my friend’s baby, a child I was always very fond of. I won’t give them many details but I’ll tell them that he was only thirteen months old when he died. Polio. People in here would remember how deadly that was in the 50s. I won’t tell them the real story, that my parents went on and on, hounding me to give him up for adoption, to give him a proper home, something no mere woman could do. And then my little Anthony got sick, and… he died. I moved to Toronto right afterwards, and that’s where I met Jim.
I never told him about Anthony, not even when we couldn’t have kids and they assumed the problem was me. I knew my mother wouldn’t tell him, as she didn’t want to add to the shame I’d already brought upon them. She thought losing him was punishment for my sins.
No, I don’t think I can show people the photo. Not today.
At least I don’t think so.
But if I do show it, I’ll point to where my friend’s tears marked it. I’ll tell them his dying nearly killed her, and I’ll tell them that everyone told her she had to get on with her life and soon there’d be other kids to make up for losing him. Let bygones be bygones. Accept God’s will. Things like that.
Everyone will probably agree. People, they’re all fools.
Mary J. Breen has been a writer and editor for over twenty years. Nowadays her interest is memoirs: reading them, writing them, and teaching memoir classes so other people will write them too. She has written two books about women’s health, and her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in national newspapers, essay collections, travel magazines, health journals, and literary magazines.