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A Million Little Pieces Of My Mind

In the first years of the twentieth century, cameras were still too bulky—and babies too wriggly—to make infant photography practical. Mom's first portrait was taken when she was about 1½ years old.

(1914) Edna Mae Brown

When going over these pictures my Mom, in her 90s, recalled that she used to chew on that locket.

In 1915, Mom's parents took her to Atlantic City, a place which, judging by her expression, she didn't enjoy, despite the new pinwheel she clutches. (However, that was before they brought in the casinos!)

(1915) Edna Mae and parents in Atlantic City.

You can barely see Mary Virginia peaking out from behind her baby. An accident of the camera, or a psychological revelation?

Grandpa wears his proud look.

Mom enjoyed pinwheels all her life. She frequently bought garden pinwheels and made us display them outside.

The next two photos show Mom at four years old and at six, respectively.

(1916) Edna Mae Brown at 4 (1918) Edna Mae Brown at 6
Mom with her best friend, Bernice Fiesler.

In 1919, Mom entered kindergarten (something only privileged kids, like the daughter of an optometrist, were likely to do) and there she met Bernadette Fiesler. She and Bernie quickly became best friends, and remained so until Bernie's death a year or so before Mom's.

The photo at right was taken on the occasion of their First Communion. (By 1919, handheld cameras were in common use and, as an optometrist and therefore interested in light and lenses, my grandfather was sure to have had a high-quality one. However, this is a studio photo.)

We have blurry photos of Mom's 7th birthday party—with 20 guests, most of whom Mom could still name in her 90s—and her 6th grade class, out of which she could name most of the 40-odd students. But the next photo that seemed meaningful to her was the following, taken on a vacation with her father to Nova Scotia.

(1929) Vernon Brown, Edna Mae Brown, Madison Burrell and friend.

It was taken in 1929. Grampa, in his sporty vacation attire, stands at the left. Mom sits on the running board of the car. A friend, Madison Burrell, sits next to her. He'd spent the vacation, according to Mom, trying to get her attention. (Mom often described young men trying to get her attention.) However, shortly after Mom and Grampa left to return home, Madison dove headfirst into a lake, striking a hidden rock and breaking his neck. Mom never found out if he recovered. I remember, as a young boy, being frequently told this cautionary tale by my mother, usually at unhelpful times, such as when swimming at the Kiwanis pool (where there were no hidden rocks) or while wading in the Moose River (which was so shallow that the water didn't reach our knees, therefore precluding diving).

Vernon and Mary Virginia Brown

On the way back from Nova Scotia, the Browns passed through Pawlet, Vermont, where they purchased a vacation home. By then, my grandfather's hair loss was complete, leaving only a blonde fringe around the sides. He was still a young man, but would retain the same look the rest of his life, creating an odd air of eternal age and agelessness. My grandmother's dark hair had turned white.

This was the last picture they had taken together. From then on, Mom and her mother took vacations in Pawlet together, while my grandfather remained behind in Bloomfield to work, and made only occasional forays out to meet them.