Last night, fueled by wine and chocolate cheesecake, we started talking with J's dad about old vacations taken in the Caribbean; later he showed me pictures of several trips over the years. The last one was from fifteen years ago. He talked about the sand, the way rain fell on the umbrella, the huge crab they found on their window-sill the morning of the honeymoon.
Then J took out some old slides he'd been meaning to ask about: he wanted his dad to identify people on the slides he didn't know.
There were one or two slides of young, mini-skirted women posing in office-like surroundings. J sniggered and made jokes, these were obviously from the '60s when his Dad was young. So we showed his Dad the slides. First young woman, wearing a black top with sheer sleeves and a gold, really, gold, miniskirt, and black high heels with big buckles. She has straight long hair and nice legs. J's Dad looks blank for a second, then bursts out, "Maureen McGrath!"
J and I feel as if a long-standing mystery of epic proportions has been solved. We go on to other pictures and one by one, identities are revealed; grandparents, cousins, a brother's ex-wife, an Uncle when he was a year old. Many of their stories are over now, but in the photos they are dressed in the fashion of the day, big purses, skinny ties; there is something touching in their youth and the way they smile trustingly into the camera so many years later before our eyes. And then there are a few stragglers who stubbornly remain on the edge of identification and labeling. They will join the ranks of those who exist in every old photo-album- the phantom people. People who were once known, perhaps an afternoon spent with them at a lakeside picnic, or a sly after-dinner cigarette shared.
I have a stronger resolve now than ever to go to my parents' house, attack the storage rooms, and hunt down every old picture I can find.