The price of secrecy
May 18, 2014 by Thomas Wictor
For over a year, I looked for an artifact that I found yesterday. In the process I sorted through thousands of photos. One box came from my Great-aunt Clarinda, sister to my paternal grandmother Angelina. Every photo in the box is unmarked. I have no idea who these people are. The price of secrecy is high; it can include lampoonery.
Before I get to these photos, a confession. Until October 7, 2011—the day I was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease—I viewed myself as a simpering patsy. You can go deep inside my head by reading Hallucinabulia: the Dream Diary of an Unintended Solitarian, Volume Three of the Ghosts Trilogy.
In 1973 a school photographer captured precisely how I felt about myself.
Genderless, fat, obsequious, and with a terrible haircut is no way to go through life, but everyone in my family had his or her own cross to bear. We each developed different coping strategies. Mine was to try and please.
The late John Candy was one of my heroes. He created a character named William B. Williams, the embodiment of my former self-image.
The laugh—showcased at 2:46—is what makes Candy so brilliant. William B. Williams was a sidekick who sucked up to cheesy celebrities and got nothing but abuse in return. He wanted so badly to belong that he eagerly degraded himself, becoming a human doormat. I never went that far, but the urge was always there. It disappeared on October 7, 2011.
So. We’re going to laugh at the following photos. First, however, you must laugh at me.
My Great-aunt Clarinda was likely the unhappiest person who ever lived. Since there’s nothing funny about her misery, I won’t post any of the hundreds of photos in which she looks as though she were about to be executed by firing squad. Instead, here’s the only image I have of her smiling.
Clarinda is on the left, sitting in a tree with her sister Angelina in about 1915.
And now some of the photos I found in a box yesterday. On the lid, it says in Clarinda’s handwriting, “Give these to my relatives, please.” But…who was supposed to give them? And to which relatives? The box was covered with a quarter-inch of dust. It had perched on the top of a shelf in Dad’s bedroom for sixteen years. Not a single image is identified.
This is a Catholic priest.
For non-Catholics, we’re supposed to go to confession. Usually the confessional has one compartment where the parishioner kneels, and another where the priest sits. It’s kept very dark. When you go in and kneel, the priest slides back a panel so you can see his face. Imagine this priest flinging back the panel and shrieking, “CONFESS!” What’re the odds that you’d ever commit another sin?
This photo just said, “Birthday” on the back.
That’s a pack of Marlboro cigarettes by the elbow of the ecstatic guest on the right. The red-and-white design first appeared in 1954, even though the other woman looks like a 1940s Rosie the Riveter. Occasions such as these were very important to my father. Despite always appointing himself impresario, he enjoyed birthday parties about as much as these people. I always wanted to ask him, “What is the point of this?”
Now that I’ve seen all the photos he tucked away, I realize that glumness was a birthday tradition in Dad’s family. I guess the sentiment was, “You are one year closer to death.”
Aunt Clarinda knew Andy Warhol, apparently.
This team of cloned nuns isn’t scanning trickery on my part. Those are two strips of photos that were in the box. Wouldn’t it be awesome to have an entire room wallpapered like that?
A Christmas card.
Ed Gein Jr. in the foreground is getting ready to murder the photographer. His expression says I warned you, and he’s taken off his left glove to pull a pistol from his pocket. The mother’s thinking, Don’t blame me. This is what you wanted, and the older son just does what everybody tells him to do.
“Grab the handle of the door, Chip.”
“Okay. I have grabbed.”
On to some high-school photos.
“Hmmm. I wonder what it would feel like to snap somebody’s neck with my bare hands?”
“I reject all your petty little labels!”
“You must be a parking ticket, baby, ’cause you got ‘fine’ written all over you.”
“I am Vinz, Vinz Clortho, Keymaster of Gozer. Volguus Zildrohar, Lord of the Sebouillia. Are you the Gatekeeper?”
Of course who should therefore appear next but Sigourney Weaver?
I end with my favorite photo from the box.
That is one happy baby. All babies should look like that, all the time. Not even a microscopic wisp of fear or discomfort. Someone loved him and let him know.
Good for you, unknown parents. God bless you.
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