Fron left to right; Aunt Nellie, Mama Pearl, Mumsey, Rosebud
Front row: Me and my brother

Black and White photograph c.1950
by Sharmagne Leland-St. John

My mother is holding
my brother's left wrist
in her left gloved hand
her right arm is securely
around his middle.
She's afraid she'll lose him too,
like she did her daughters.
I had not seen him since he was a baby
in our shared bedroom on Vista Grande.

She wears no wedding band.
My brother twines his small dimpled fingers
around her index finger.

I'm wearing a plaid jumper
with a frilly collared,
long-sleeved white blouse
and white socks disappearing
into red double strapped shoes.
A red silk ribbon holds back my tawny hair.

Mother is wearing a dark brown
shoulder-padded suit
her small waist evident in the photo.
A dark velvet hat frames
her coarse black hair,
which in turn frames
her high cheek-boned freckled face.

I remember the day well,
but maybe only through old sepia photographs
preserved in yellowed card stock folders
made to look like frames
from Christy~Shepard, Hollywood.

The same photo studio George Hurrell used
to develop his glamour shots
and a favourite of our family photographer,
Pell Mitchell, the chronicler of our childhood,
our family's joys and sorrows.
Pell, a UPI staff photographer
was known to us as "Daddy" Pell,
kind of like "Daddy Warbucks", I suppose.

Daddy Pell and Mama Pearl
had no children of their own.
Mama Pearl had been a Zigfield follies dancer
and had a garland of roses tattooed on her thin wrist.
She wore her white hair in finger curls.
Her lips drawn on in a red Cupid's bow

My childhood populated by "fictive kin."
Mama Pearl was one of my godmothers
and we shared the same birthday, May 23.

I am seated, legs dangling over the side
of my Aunt Nellie Hazelhurst's porch siding
at her clapboard house on Garfield Avenue
or Gramercy Place in Hollywood.

My brother, a toddler now, has on a playsuit,
scuffed Buster Brown shoes,
and striped socks folded over the bows
so he can't untie them.

In the echo of silence lies the loneliness of memory


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