I still remember, when I was around six years old, my father taking us to our monthly visit to his brother and my aunt on the outskirts. It was almost a ritual: we would have an earlier lunch at home, take the bus and arrive at my uncle’s place at 2 PM. After the predictable socialization for precisely two hours, we would have coffee, biscuits, bread and jelly, all made fresh by my aunt for this family meeting (my uncle used to say that he wouldn’t have these goodies otherwise). Finally, at 5 PM, we would take the bus back home, arriving just in time for my father to listen to the Sunday’s sports news on the radio.
Their house was made of thick wood planks painted in green, with white frames on the windows and thick orange clay shingles on the roof. The wooden front gate was layered with a dark red color, supported by a wired net and cement posts (we all knew that my uncle chose the red and green colors to pay homage to the Italian flag as my grandparents came from Italy).
We would arrive at the house by the front door, knock at it and my aunt would greet us pretending our visit would be a surprise for them. The furniture was old and quite decadent with some pieces loosely fixed by my uncle while the floor was always kept shiny by my aunt who never allowed us to play inside.
My father would then engage in a conversation in loud voices with my uncle about politics, either complaining that the governor from the other party was not doing it right or that the mayor left a pothole to be fixed after the last rain.
Meanwhile, my mother would spend her time with my aunt talking about family things and help to prepare the coffee, anxious to go home, from her side, and my aunt just willing to get rid of us as soon as possible.
For us, three kids, we would play in the backyard, weather permitting, climbing the trees to get some fresh fruits or just build castles with bricks and mud that we readied on the fly. Most of the time, I found these afternoons quite dull, just waiting for the coffee time to have biscuits which also would start the countdown to go home.
From all the sensations and moments experienced there, the one that always struck me was a naïve, quite basic hand-colored old picture of my grandparents, from around the beginning of the century. Apparently taken by a cheap photographer that didn’t seem to care about the color combination: my grandmother was all in light-blue with her blurred face in a pale rose, and my grandfather was in all brown and the same rosy and fuzzy face. Even the eyes were pink. Interestingly, my grandfather was looking almost at my grandmother’s direction while she was gazing at some point in front of her like saying, “I don’t want to be here, and I don’t belong to you!”, or at least it was my impression every time I would see them there.
The picture, in a thick oval frame, already in bad shape with water stains, was hung in a very strategic place on the living room wall lit by the direct light from a nearby window. My uncle always said that it was kept as a remembering of his beloved parents, while looking at my father with a slight disapproval face because, as I remember, my father rarely talked about his parents let alone having a picture of them.
That simple painting never left me, and I became attracted to its style, perhaps inspiring my future attempts in watercolor painting. Now, I went back in time and tried to do a similar thing with my pictures to feel what photographers of that time felt.
Enjoy these old-timers!