“Remember me for what I was, not what I couldn’t be…” That’s a line from a song Anne Clark sang on her album “Hopeless Cases”, released in 1987. The music builds ornamental spirals around her expressive voice. Which sounds like a suitable background to this.
It’s a snapshot. Taken right after my christening in 1972, in front of the plain, white church of Kleindorf. It shows what I was.
What I couldn’t be, what I cannot be is manifold. But what I was is unique.
You can see the whole family on the photo. To be honest, a stranger could mistake their solemn faces for grim glares and conclude they have assembled for a funeral. Or a vendetta. Sure enough, they look like a Sicilian Clan straight out of “The Godfather”.
Pretty spot-on, in some ways. My family can feel like a Sicilian Clan. Without the Sicilian origins, that is.
Anyway. There’s grandma Cilli, in the centre, holding me in her arms. She’s my godmother, that’s why her stance and her face reflect honour and pride. She’s holding me tight, she’s holding me safe. A knowing half-smile shows around her lips.
To her right, my father. In a dark suit. Black-haired, handsome, slender, well-proportioned. He’s laughing at the camera, his teeth blinking, white and spotless. Ask everyone to look solemn, and he’ll still manage somehow to laugh. He holds one of my tiny fingers in his big hand.
To Cilli’s left, my mother, wearing a mini-skirt, a white blouse, a light jacket, her gaze directed at my father’s head. She looks smitten. As if to protect me, she has placed one hand on my bald, shiny head.
The priest to her left leans slightly on her to make sure he’s on the photo. He folds his hands as if saying a prayer. Another protection for me. He crinkles his wise face into an enigmatic expression.
Up front, my cousins. Sulking because they hate wearing their Sunday best. They have already hated sitting still in church and putting up with that long, dull ceremony. Now, they’d rather play Cowboys and Red Indians than to behave well. One has scraped her knee on the way to church. The scab is barely visible under the seam of her short, white dress. She’s wearing an oxeye-daisy in her hair.
Aunt Lucia’s already grey hair stands out behind grandma Cilli and my parents. Her features are set, resolute, dynamic; she's holding my one-and-a-half-year-old sister Kathi in her arm. Who doesn’t look amused. No, the baby girl frowns as if questioning the whole thing.
My aunt’s other arm lies on grandma Berta’s shoulder. Berta leans against her daughter, a walking stick in her hand. She looks small and vulnerable, her lips drawn into a stern, unsmiling line.
Around the two, my other aunts and uncles.
Grandpa Ferdi stands on the right margin, you only see one half of his body, his protruding belly. He stands straight, upright, exhaling his workman’s pride, winking at the camera. You have to guess whether he’s doing it because something amuses him. Or because he’s staring into the sun.
On the other margin, grandpa Hans has been cut in two by the photographer, too. He wears a discreet, polite expression, as if he’d come across a stranger’s christening. As if he didn’t have anything to do with the rest of us.
In the very centre of the snapshot, a tiny worm, wound into a clear-coloured sheet. They say this was I. Only my hands and my hairless head jut out of the sheet. I seem to concentrate, to meditate something essential, my fat little face wrinkled with the effort.
But look closer.
You’ll discover that I’m fast asleep, probably dreaming, and ignoring the fuss and flurry they’re all making.
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