“All your baby pictures were lost in the fire.”
This is the story my mother, (Kay) told me…and I believed her.
There are various versions of how the fire started, each implicating different family members. Over the years, these conflicting stories have given our family countless hours of entertainment. After a few drinks, different family members start pointing accusatory fingers at one another, but in the end, nothing is resolved.
The one thing that can be agreed on is that my grandparents were called from next door and quickly formed a bucket brigade. It is said that the smoke from the fire turned my grandfather’s white hair yellow. The fire destroyed my parent’s bedroom and all of our family photos.
When I was in 6th grade my teacher asked us to bring in our baby pictures for the class bulletin board. He held a contest to see how many of our classmates we could identify by their baby pictures. The earliest picture I had was the family photo from my brother Emmett’s wedding album. I was four years old at that time and past the age limit for our class bulletin board.
I was very upset. I asked my mother if an uncle, aunt or family friend might have my baby picture.
“No,” she said. “All the baby pictures were lost in the fire.”
“Lost in the fire?!?” my brother Emmett said. “His photos couldn’t have been lost in the fire. The fire was in October of 1957. Bobby was born in 1962.”
My mother was busted!
The sad truth is that Emmett, the oldest in the family, had about 1000 baby pictures. My sister Kathy, the second oldest, probably had 200. Jimmy and Johnny (twin brothers), the next oldest, probably had 50. By the time they got to me, number nine; my parents didn’t even bother pulling out the camera.
About four years ago, Peggy, an old neighbor of mine, sent me this photo. That's me, age 2. Her mom had died and she was cleaning out a drawer when she stumbled upon it. She was kind enough to mail it to me.
I was thrilled!
Although the photo looks as though Matthew Brady took it in Appalachia during Reconstruction, it was actually taken in my neighbor’s yard in West Haven, CT in 1964. West Haven is a small city where the homes are only a few feet apart. Our street was bordered by railroad tracks on one end and one of the city's main thoroughfares on the other. Not rural at all. Mr. Chickla, (our neighbor) raised rabbits and apparently ducks in his backyard. I’m guessing that’s a piece of candy in my mouth and not a hayseed.
“You’re not going to post that picture on the Internet? My wife asked. “You look like a dirty little street urchin standing in front of your shanty in Ireland.”
“That’s what I like about,” I said. “In fact, someday I think I’ll put it on the cover of my first novel. I’ll title it… “Kay’s Ashes.”