The light that shines from her face in this picture is so bright. She is looking right at me – she is looking into me. She died when I was five years old, the age that she appears here; my beautiful little mother. Next to her is my recently deceased grandmother who is smiling cunningly, looking at someone behind the picture frame. Who was he? – We will never know. Who took the picture? – It may as well have been me. I am immersed in this reality and it defines a huge part of me, yet all I have to help me understand my past is this picture.
My grandmother landed in a little town in the south of Germany called Ottenbach right around the time this picture was taken. She eventually became city councilwoman and first female headmaster of the school she once lived in. She barely escaped the iron curtain where it all began, in Bohemia (now within the Czech Republic). Fleeing with little-mom in tow, they both hid on a train and snuck into West Germany. Mom also eventually ran away, to Canada, but for love – and all of these stories were phantoms in my memory, unknown and unexplored, until I reached my mother’s home town and saw this picture for the first time in my life (at the age of 33 in 2013).
How do I recover the record of a traumatic history that is so important to the foundation of my identity?
How do I examine this picture or any document or any testimonies I have received along the way?
How do I claim back my lost past?
Do I even need to?