This photograph was taken by my cousin Pat on a Polaroid camera when I was 23.
I was home for Christmas with the swagger of a girl with her first -- and only as it turns out -- newspaper job. I had many stories to tell back then, about life on Parliament Hill, drinks with celebrity journalists, reporting on the issues of the day.
Just a year out of journalism school, I had managed to get a ticket to the Big Show, but my relatives didn't care. They didn't want to hear about it. Sometimes I felt like an alien who had landed in Pleasantville where everything had stayed the same and people lived their lives in black-and-white while I was being colorized.
My mom and my Aunt Alwyn were always listening, though, fascinated by the stories of a time and a place that they could only imagine. And how I loved to talk about my new life, for hours into the morning. Sometimes, we would stay up til 3 a.m. talking.
At Christmas, especially, I miss those talks.
Like many people in late middle age, I wish I could get that time back again.
But it's gone, like good knees and true hair color.
The elders in this photograph, my mom and Uncle Ivan, are long gone. My brothers are still together with their wives, my cousin Marty is now a successful something-or-other living in the UK with his own family.
Me, I'm still in Ottawa telling stories but they aren't quite as fascinating. Celebrities and politicians become tiresome. The Big Show has become a dusty old vaudeville act full of clowns and acrobats, ridiculous creatures. Nobody wants to hear about them anymore.
A few years after this photo was taken, we stopped having Christmas together. The family didn't really sync anymore and we all went our separate ways, which was too bad. I always loved our family times together when we played board games, cranked up the tunes and danced under the strobe lights.
New relationships can be horrible on families. So can distance. Both tear solid families apart, make relatives into acquaintances who talk occasionally about the weather over telephone lines. Those conversations, eventually, stop altogether.
My mother, seen here with her pack of smokes and beer bottle strategically placed nearby, but not quite out of the shot, was the glue that held our family together. Then she was gone and now so are we. I tried for many years to keep things going, but it was hard so far from home. After I got divorced, I gave up on family altogether. What was the point? All my dreams and beliefs were shattered. Isolation set in.
Now, friends have replaced brothers and sisters, our own children become the moons that orbit us, grandchildren rejuvenate our aching hearts.
We've all spun new webs as we've aged.
Perhaps it wouldn't have happened if we all lived in the same city but that is the tragedy of growing up in a small place where the only prospect of good employment is on the automotive line. We all had to move for jobs and adventure. That's when the centre fell apart.
I'm not complaining. I've got my own life now.
My kids are here for Christmas. They wouldn't be anywhere else.
Will that change? I hope not, at least I hope things don't change while I'm still on the planet and I can still touch my satellites.
Still, it's good to have the Polaroid just the same. I have it on my beside table to remind me of a world I knew, long ago in another universe.
-- Rose Simpson, with photos from from Scott Troyer.
See also: Ottawa Christmas Lights Guide
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