Diary Friday: “Mummy Gina referred to it as: ‘the infamous trip to Canada.’”

This journal entry is from early in my freshman year in college. I describe a family trip to my grandmother’s condo. This is the O’Malley side of the family. I find this entry very poignant. I sound anxious about what will happen to me when I am old. Will I be all right? Will I have happy memories? I still remember the pictures laid out on that table and I still remember my reaction to them. I love my family. I am very fortunate.

October 13
Yesterday before we went into Boston we spent a few hours at Mummy Gina’s condo. She’s really hurt her back and has to walk with a cane, but she’s as bubbly as ever. Tom was there with his girlfriend Jo and her son Christopher, who is an unbelievable sweetheart. He must be about 6 or 7.

When I’m in the bosom of my family, I just sit there watching, hoping I can become an adult as well-adjusted as all of them. They’re so nice to one another. I watched Tom help Christopher put a toy together, his head bent over it, Christopher leaning close to him –

I keep anticipating men to be egotistical and shitty. Even men in my own family. And there’s Tom, who looks like a tough guy (all the brothers call him “Gonzales”), he’s very handsome. And the way he is with Chris … the way he is with all of us … It’s wonderful.

The way my dad and all his brothers treat each other: I mean, they tease mercilessly, but they respect each other. They like each other as people. Also the family is so elastic, letting new people in with ease, like Jo and Chris.

On Mummy Gina’s table there were stacks and stacks of old photos. Not of us, but of Dad when he was little. And even older photos than that. That’s basically how I spent those three hours, studying each and every picture. Oh GOD. I wanted to take them all to make a scrapbook. I was enthralled, close to tears. History has never felt so close to me.

Last night for the first time I felt that — even if I didn’t become overwhelmingly famous and respected — it might be all right. Because by the time I die, hopefully I’ll have a lot of happy funny memories to look back on, and get satisfaction from that.

Browsing through the pictures:

Mummy Gina’s senior picture, Dad in a sunsuit, Dad with a crewcut, about 5 years old, Terry as a baby, Tony — all of them on Christmas day. Jimmy: a tough little guy with slicked hair. Terry and Joe as teenagers playing baseball in the backyard. Regina going off to all her proms.

I couldn’t drag my eyes away.

My favorites were Dad in the sunsuit.

Then there were really old pictures. Brown and blurred.

The only memories I have of Pop are of a stationary quiet old man, who sat under a blanket in the sunroom, painting color-by-numbers. He had emphysema, I think. But there were all of these pictures of him as a teenager, a young man. He was GORGEOUS.

He was born in 1901, so he grew up in the teens and ’20s. Diary, he was breath-taking. And he was crazy, too. So many of them made me laugh.

There was a group of photos from a trip Pop took once, and Mummy Gina referred to it as: “the infamous trip to Canada.” It was in 1917 or 1918, and he went to Canada with his best friends. There were about three pictures of all of them, 5 or 6 handsome college guys, in their bathing suits — really old-fashioned cloth kinds — posing on a stone wall by a river, in these mock balletic statuesque positions, legs stuck out in arabesques, heads thrown back, arms out to steady themselves. And there’s Pop among them. Just 5 nutty guys. Like today.

I guess they met 5 girls on this “infamous trip to Canada”, on a road somewhere — Everyone was referring to them as “the dancing girls.” “Have you come across the pictures of the dancing girls yet?” I can just see it: 5 guys having a great time, running into 5 just as nutty girls.

There’s one picture of all of them with their arms around each other, doing a Chorus Line kick, guys with knickers on, and boots, the girls were all flappers, wearing small hats and T-strap shoes. And everyone was laughing uproariously. They’re on a ROAD somewhere in Canada.

There was a shot of just the girls, holding hands, and being crazy. It’s a blurred picture, because they’re all dancing, in motion, but you can see their giggling faces fine. Every time I think about the whole situation, it makes me laugh a little harder.

And Pop was there –

He wasn’t born an old man. He was an extremely exquisite-looking college guy who loved to be rowdy and crazy in Canada with his four best friends.

I can’t tell you how many times I kept pulling them out again and again to stare at them — each face — I could feel my own face gliding into a grin each time I looked. The pictures were so EXCITING to me.

There were many more exciting pictures: Mummy Gina’s mother — it must have been taken at the turn of the century or before. She was so beautiful. Her beauty shone out of that dull black and white. There’s a man beside her with a shiny top hat.

Suddenly everything is real to me.

Mummy Gina was a pretty 17 year old who wore overalls and babysat.

Pop was a handsome nut who cavorted with unknown Canadian flappers and clowned around in his bathing suit.

Dad wore sunsuits, and was a baby who had no teeth

Regina was an extremely fat little baby

Mummy Gina had a MOTHER who was very beautiful.

Life … life …

Everyone has a history. What will be my history, when I’m old? What pictures will be lying around of MY life?

It doesn’t matter if your history is world-known or what — Your life is important because you’re you. I must remember that. I have to be happy. Even if I don’t become an actress. It shouldn’t matter that much.

I loved looking at those pictures. No one will ever know how much they all meant to me.

I never really knew Pop. But now I feel like I do.

It’s so so beautiful!!!!

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8 Responses to Diary Friday: “Mummy Gina referred to it as: ‘the infamous trip to Canada.’”

  1. Courtney says:

    “Last night for the first time I felt that — even if I didn’t become overwhelmingly famous and respected — it might be all right” – This! This just captures your age and your yearning and your dreams so beautifully – I love this line. And you were a beautiful writer, even then!

  2. Kate says:

    I so admire you for capturing these thoughts and hanging onto them all these years (I’ve purged mine of course). I send your posts to my kids sometimes hoping they’ll start a journal/diary. Our viewpoints are uniquely a product of our age and stage, not to be experienced in the same way again. It’s fascinating Sheila – thank you for sharing.

    • sheila says:

      It certainly is good to have access to your younger self in this way … it can be bittersweet, but I am glad, too, that I still have this diaries.

  3. Diana says:

    I love when I am reminded once again (because I always forget!) that old people were not born old. I felt like I could see these photos.

  4. tracey says:

    //It doesn’t matter if your history is world-known or what — Your life is important because you’re you. I must remember that. I have to be happy. Even if I don’t become an actress. It shouldn’t matter that much.//

    That’s deep, hon. I love it.

  5. sheila says:

    Still hard to remember that. I still haven’t got a handle on that one!!

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