Cassie’s voice echoed through the stairwell, accompanied by her slow steps as she negotiated the basement stairs.
I hastily folded down the corner of the page I was reading and stuffed the book cover side down under my butt. It was the newest novel from my secretly favorite romance author, Samantha Beale. The cover was highly questionable and altogether recognizable. Not in a good way.
Cassie finally reached the top step, red faced and sweating, arms wrapped around a large, battered gray tote box. I recognized it.
“I found this in the basement when I was organizing,” she was puffing as she set the box down next to me and opened it.
Inside, as I knew there would be, were piled hundreds and hundreds of old, faded photographs. Cassie drew one out and turned it over.
“Germany, 1943, Sam and Helen,” she read slowly, squinting at the spidery, hand-written words on the back of the photograph. The writing was faded, barely legible.
“Who are they, Mom?” Cassie raised her eyes to mine, brow creased. “Do you know them?”
I took the photograph from her, handling it gingerly by the edges lest I dirty it with fingerprints. It was a black and white photo, grainy, with bent edges. It was, I noted, already covered with fingerprints from handling over the years.
It showed two people, a man and a woman, in their twenties. He was dressed in a broad-lapeled suit, she in a smart dress and shawl. She had her small hand tucked into the crook of his elbow, with her gloves held in the other. He was taller than her, and leaned towards her slightly, his direct look towards the unknown photographer accented by a slight, deep smile. Her smile was wide and sweet, the corners of her mouth tucked in to show her dimples.
“They’re my parents,” I said to Cassie. “This was when they went to Germany on a mission for their church.”
I turned the photo over again and checked the date. “I think this was just before she got pregnant with me,” I said, thinking back over the years.
I returned back to the image. I gazed at my mother’s eyes, remembering moments from my childhood. How she would read me stories from my favorite book, making up the words because I never knew the difference. Preparing dinner in the kitchen, hands wrinkled from washing them so often, her old weathered apron protecting the dresses she loved to wear. How she would carefully curl her hair before she and my father would go out for an evening, leaving me in the care of my aunt, Jessie. I remembered being afraid to hug her and mar her lipstick, I felt the squeeze of her arms as she would hug me goodbye, the smell of her perfume as she moved through the room.
I turned my gaze to my father. His eyes, creased at the corners, seemed to be laughing, emphasized by the smile stretched across his face. I remembered how he would hold my hand as we went for a walk, my tiny one enveloped in his. I remembered how he would look at my mother, as if she was the last thing he ever hoped to see on this earth.
Mostly, I remembered how much they loved me, and each other. I looked up at Cassie, and saw her face, her dear face, tendrils of hair that had escaped from her bun clinging to her forehead and neck. She was smiling, watching me and the memories that must have been parading across my face.
“Grandma is so pretty, mom,” she said, looking at the photo. “I can tell how much grandpa loved her.”
“You look just like her,” I replied, slinging my arm around her shoulders and pulling her close. I kissed the top of her head and let her go, then returned the photo to the box.
“I’m going to find a good place for these. We don’t want to lose them, right?” Cassie’s voice hung in the air after she left.
“No,” I said softly. “No, we don’t want to lose them.”
The prompt I chose this week was: “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words”.