I’ve got two photos of my grandma, whom we called mama, in my lounge room. The one above was taken when she was small – would you say two or three? – with her brothers and sisters, in around 1900 (she was born in 1898). I love it – the family resemblance between them is so clear, and mama looks so wary and classically uncomfortable – no doubt it was not a common occurrence and she had to keep still. And with each year that passes it is longer and longer ago – those old style dresses, the painted backdrop, the sepia colours of the print. Even the names of her siblings – left to right from the back, Elsie, George, Irene (called Rene), then in front, Myrtle (called Myrt), Cyril and Stella (mama).
The second photo is around 60 years later and I also love it. It shows mama holding my brother Richard, who is six weeks old, and in front I have my tongue out and am holding a cup and a doll, and Jane is squeezing the cat. We’re sitting outside our back door. I love all our expressions, and mama looks a lot like I remember her – very granny-like. Mum probably took the picture and she very nearly missed Jane altogether – but there’s a great shot of the tap!
It’s not the technicalities that interest me here, though, but the mystery of how we change, how to we grow into ourselves, how we stay ourselves through our various incarnations over time. It is fantastic to think that the little awkward and wary girl in the older picture is the same person as that old lady in the more recent one; the stiffly placed hands in the first picture (you can see she is trying very hard to do the right thing I think) the same as the arthritic, soft hands in the second. Or indeed that I am the same person in 1961 (much the same age as mama was in the first picture) as I am now (just a few years younger than mama in the granny shot).