My Marilyn Monroe Moment

I have an old photograph of me at the top of the Empire State Building, my dress blowing in the wind that always exists up there.   I remember that day well, even though I was only six.  My husband says he has never been to the top, even though he grew up in Connecticut.  I smile, because I have this picture and the memory that proves I was there.  Who would know where the picture was taken if I weren’t here to tell them?  There is nothing written on the back.  At least there is a date on the front from the developing that says 1955.  If my children were to see this picture, they would never know where I was standing when I had my Marilyn Monroe moment with my dress billowing about me.  It’s not important, I suppose, to anyone but me.  But I want it to matter because it is a moment in my life that keeps slipping away, little by little.

That’s the thing about pictures.  Old ones are wonderful to look at but frustrating when you don’t know the circumstances.  I even have old ones I took after my last parent died that show people I don’t even know.  Who are they?  Are they friends?  Family?  Where were these people when they were captured on film?  I don’t throw them out because somehow they were important to my grandparents or my parents, and I can’t part with them if only for that.

The other day I was going through some old photos and found one of cacti.  Yes, cacti.  On the back was written a detailed description of the photo, including the month, day, and year.  I looked on the back of many other photos with people in them, and nothing was written.  Why is it that the cacti were more important than the people?  Or was it that when the other pictures were taken, the people never thought ahead to a time when a granddaughter or a great granddaughter might be looking at those pictures and want as much information as she could get?  Maybe they were enjoying the moment and not looking to a distant future.  But now I am left with so many questions and no one to give me answers.

Here is a picture of my grandmother, my mother’s mother.   When was it taken?  How old was she?  Was she married to Daddy Bill yet?  Had she given much thought to what shape her life might take?  And what about the picture of my grandfather trying to pull my grandmother into the ocean?  At least there is the imprint of the date on the front of the picture, so I know my grandfather was only a year younger than I am now.  I can surmise they were in Florida at the time, since I know they used to leave their cold Ohio home in the winter to spend time in Clearwater.  I love the playful look on my grandfather’s face, and I love seeing how vibrantly alive and healthy he looked because his health deteriorated not so many years after that.  And Grandma?  I can’t see her face, but was she smiling at Daddy Bill’s antics?  Did she give any thought to that time so many years ago when the earlier picture was taken and think, Yes, this has been a good life.  This is what I had hoped for.

A picture of my father’s father and my mother sitting on a bench in Central Park shows my mother laughing.   What had my grandfather said to her?  What year was it?  It had to be before 1956 because my grandfather died that year at the age of 59.  I want to know everything about him because I adored him in the seven short years I knew him.  The pictures of him make me hunger for stories about his life, stories that will never be told anymore.

I wonder if years from now my children will be looking at old pictures and wonder what the circumstances were or who the people were.  Will they sit, like me, full of questions and wish they had asked more?  I could put descriptions on the back of some of them, though there are so many memories that are lost now.  And nowadays, we take pictures digitally and save them on computers or CD’s or DVD’s, nothing to hold in our hands and flip over so we can read an inscription.  Technology doesn’t always make things better.  Anyway, like I said, it probably isn’t important to anyone but me.

But, just in case it does matter, here is a picture of my husband and me at my youngest son’s wedding last August.  We are sharing a quiet moment, pulled away from the celebrating guests, to reflect on this wonderful event, how fortunate we are to have the family we have, and how blessed we are to be welcoming this precious daughter-in-law into it.  Now, if my children or grandchildren see this picture one day, they won’t have to wonder, What were they thinking?

About Coming East

I am a writer, wife, mother, and grandmother who thinks you're never too old until you're dead. My inspiration is Grandma Moses who became a successful artist in her late 70's. If I don't do something pretty soon, though, I'll have to find someone older for inspiration.
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51 Responses to My Marilyn Monroe Moment

  1. Val says:

    I’ve just sent you an email to your gmail account. 🙂

  2. Val says:

    PS. It wasn’t particularly this photo, I’ll colour what you’d like me to colour. But if you want me to do this one and you can send it at a higher resolution, I’ll do this one. 🙂

    • comingeast says:

      I don’t think this picture is a good one; too much going on in it and not very sharp. I don’t know how to change the resolution when I scan it. How is that possible?

      • Val says:

        Your scanner will have settings that can be changed before you scan (sometimes between looking at a preview and actually scanning it. You might have to change the mode (ie, most scanners’ default settings are set to something like ‘home user’ and have alternatives for ‘professional user’ or something like that.

        Hey, I’m messing up your comment threads with this topic, shall I email you?

        Also – don’t worry about any of this – if you’re living in a region that’s likely to be hit by the hurricane, get the hell out of there and take care of yourself and your family and think about other stuff later when you’re safe.

      • comingeast says:

        I don’t mind the comment thread thing, but if you want to e-mail me, I’m at I just forget to check that e-mail very often. We have two scanners, both of them supposed to be good for photos, so I’ll experiment. We actually aren’t going to go anywhere for the storm. We’re hunkering down with a lot of food and extra water in case the power goes out.

  3. Val says:

    Go through your photos, find one that you can scan at a reasonably high resolution (preferably not less than 8 inches at it’s narrowest side), use the email address that arrived with my comment, and send me a pic of your choice and I’ll see what I can do. 🙂 (I’m not good with sea or water, though, and it really should be as sharp as possible though I’m happy to do slightly burry ones if that’s what you particularly want). I’ll need some guidelines (in your accompanying email) about what colours (if any) you know from the photo – clothes, hair, eyes, etc.

    If possible send a .png or .tif file type rather than a .jpg as .jpgs compress and lose information. But I’m still happy to do .jpgs if you want.


    • comingeast says:

      I’ll work on it this weekend, Val. I should have plenty of time, since Hurricane Irene is barreling down on us and should arrive Saturday morning. Thanks a ton. This is so kind of you.

  4. This is a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing it.

  5. Val says:

    Apropos my other comment, I can’t remember if you’ve seen it before, but here’s a link to my Photo Colouring Work page.

  6. Val says:

    Your photos are beautiful, and I know exactly what you mean by not enough information (or no information) about old photos and wanting to know more. I’ve a family photo album with over 500 photos in it, from circa 1930 to 1955 and a whole lot more ‘loose’ photos in various drawers going back to the early 1900s. I have some knowledge of some of the people, but trying to find info on the others has been very difficult. Thankfully, a couple of years before my dad died, I asked him about some of the early ones and he recorded what he remembered, on tape. I must, must transcribe those soon as audio tapes (well, all magnetic media) don’t last and I’d hate to lose all that – and his voice too.

    If, sometime, you’d like a photo coloured in exchange for a ‘spot’ in your blog and a link to yours in mine, let me know, because the detail in your photos is great.

    By the way, I had a close look at the one of your grandmother and grandfather on the beach and your grandmother is not only smiling, but she is laughing.

    • comingeast says:

      Oh, my goodness! I did not know that my grandmother is laughing. I never saw the detail. I’d love to talk about the photo/blog post swap idea after my daughter and her family leave in a week. I would love you to be a guest blogger, if that’s what you mean, and you don’t even have to color a photo (I’m not sure what that involves). We’ll “chat” in a week. Thanks, Val.

  7. So lovely. The pictures you posted are spellbinding as they cause the imagination to run wild. I love the shot of your parents in Central Park. What a story must be behind it! I mourn for all the lost family stories also. I have boxes of old photos from both my parents and my husband’s and many are not labeled. Before they passed away, my father did see the need to label his pictures and I sat down for several hours with my mother-in-law to help her with hers. Unfortunately, she had already forgotten so many of the faces that smiled at us from the snapshots. That’s why I always made a point of labeling and dating all of my photos before I got my digital camera. Alas, technology can make us that much more removed from our stories. Maybe that’s why so many people scrapbook today?

    • comingeast says:

      It’s sad when there is no one alive anymore to answer the questions you have about family. When we’re young, we never think to ask them. We’re too caught up in our own lives, I guess. Thanks, Mama.

  8. Pingback: Forever Marilyn: Gail Levin’s New Film Frames the Monroe Doctrine « Leo Adam Biga's Blog

  9. My husband and I were just talking about this very thing with my father-in-law recently. His mother died a couple of years ago, and with her went so many stories. We encouraged him to get a digital audio recorder to put down all the stories he remembers, so they will never be lost. Eventually, we will pair the audio up with old photos and videos to tie all the pieces together. The digital age may lose the intimacy of the handwritten word on the back of a photo, but the sound of someone’s voice – priceless.

    • comingeast says:

      You are so right about the sound of someone’s voice. When we got a new phone, we kept the answering machine from my old phone because it has my father’s voice on it. Can’t part with it. I’m glad you are making an effort to save the stories now, before it’s too late. By the way, your web address has a comma in it after the www so no one can click on it and find your website. I know they can type it into place where you put the URL (must have a name I can’t remember now!), but it would be easier if you changed the comma to a period. I always enjoy your comments. Thanks, Amy.

      • Thanks for pointing that out! The link should work properly on this reply.

      • comingeast says:

        I visited your site and tried to leave a comment, but I kept getting a message that said Safari couldn’t open the page. Don’t know what the glitch is, probably on my end, but just wanted you to know I really enjoy your writing.

      • Just as I sing the praises of the digital age, the glitches keep coming. How weird that you could not comment on my blog – even more strange, I am unable to reply directly to your last comment (the little reply link does not come up after the first back and forth). Hopefully this will still post in order. Thank you for your lovely comment about my blog – even if you had to put it here instead of there (silly internet), your compliment brightened my day. Thank you.

      • comingeast says:

        I will keep visiting, even if I can’t get the reply to go through!

  10. I wrote a lot on the backs of photos before everything went digital. You’re right about the tragedy of technology in that regard. My aunt, older than me only by 10 years and the baby of her family, is great about labeling photos. We each have an album she made, full of labeled pictures of our parents as children, our grandparents through the years, great-grandparents… I even have one of my great-great-great grandmother. My favorite is one of my great-great aunt, who I knew, and her brother, who I didn’t, standing with a horse on a street that I recognize as it is now in modern times, in Philadelphia. There’s one house in the background that lets me know where it was taken. That photo of you and your husband is stunning. Should be framed. I love the honesty of that moment.

    • comingeast says:

      How fortunate for you that all those pictures are labeled! Do you live in Philadelphia? My youngest son, the one who got married last summer, was born in Mainline Philly (Bryn Mawr). We lived in West Chester for awhile and loved it. Thank you for your comment. Yes, I should frame that picture, but I almost feel I don’t want to intrude on “them” having their quiet moment!

  11. E.C. says:

    I love old photos too and you’re right very few of the photos have dates or names on them. I think it’s because at the time they figured they would never forget the people in the photos or when/where they were taken. mmm, unfortunately, I’m guilty of that same thing. 😉

  12. I’ve been going through a similar thing with my old family photos, when my daughter wanted to go through them! We realized how many were unlabeled. Many I could identify fbut many I couldn’t…and I agree completely that technology doesn’t make it any easier. It still leaves us with the daunting task of identifying and labeling (somehow) all the pictures. I love the fact that you now have the record of your husband and your thoughts at your youngest son’s wedding. Very sweet!

  13. I do the same thing. I have some wild west type pictures of family. It has to be at least my great grandparents, but I can’t be sure because there is nothing written on them. Maybe I’ll share them on my blog sometime. One thing it does do, is it allows for the imagination.

  14. I love how your posts always touch a familiar spot in my heart. I have boxes of pictures taken mainly when my parents were young. Oh, how I would love to have a little insight into the story behind many of those photos. One photo, in particular, shows my grandparents, as young adults, having a picnic lunch. My grandmother is all dressed up and wearing a little hat. My grandfather is obviously less well-dressed and covered in soot. He was a coal miner and I have always assumed he had just emerged from the mine. Were their lunches a regular occurance or did she just surprise him? I’d love to know.
    As always, thanks for starting my day in such a delightful way. It’s like a good visit with a friend.

    • comingeast says:

      Oh, my! I loved your comment, my friend. And the description of your grandparents having a picnic lunch is wonderful to contemplate. Wish you could find answers to your questions.

  15. Christine says:

    This is a beautiful post. I get upset sometimes thinking about all the information.,.the details about my family’s history…that are just lost. I’m a sucker for details. Maybe that’s partially why I blog. It seems a more permanent way of recording things.

    • comingeast says:

      I never thought of that, Christine, but the stories I’ve told lately about my family have never been written down, so maybe that’s another good thing blogging does for me.

  16. Just a lovely post. Such special moments in time captured of your grandparents (and you and your husband). I never tire of sifting through my mom’s old photo albums. Lots of pictures from the early 1900s but thankfully my grandmother wrote on the backs of most of them. I confess I have lots of photos that I haven’t written anything on the back and they’re all sitting in a pile in a big box. I have managed to put together a scrapbook for each of my kids so they’ll have some sort of record to go back and see who was who. But of course, there are the stories behind each picture that will be lost. My mom tells me details of her great-grandparents as we look at pictures together and I try to keep them in my mind so I can pass them on to my kids before I’m gone. So important to remember where and who we came from.

    • I forgot to add about the digital pics. I agree, there is something lost when you have zillions of pics on your computer, but no written story behind them. On my blog, I am slowly starting to post pictures from my past and comment on them so my kids can read about them when they’re older. But it’s not the same as an old worn photograph you can feel in your hands.

      • comingeast says:

        I agree. The problem is that we tend to take so many more pictures since we don’t have to buy film and get it developed, but you can’t print out all of them. I’m thinking of putting some pictures together on a DVD and narrating because I have imovie, so it’s an easy program. If you don’t have a Mac, you probably have Movie Maker, which can do the same thing; it’s just a little more complicated.

    • comingeast says:

      Yes, it is so important! My husband and I have thought about setting the video camera up and having his mom tell her stories when we go up to Connecticut sometime. She’s nearly 85, so I don’t know what we’re waiting for! Writing this has inspired me to do it this fall when we go.

  17. winsomebella says:

    Love these pictures, especially the one of you and your husband that captures such a beautiful moment in time. Your post is lovely and has inspired me to spend a little time with my parents trying to capture some of the stories behind our family photos NOW.

    • comingeast says:

      Oh, do! I am the matriarch of my family now. Scary thought! You’re fortunate to still have your parents to ask. Maybe you could go through pictures with them and write a little on the back to identify the moment.

  18. huffygirl says:

    Wonderful pictures and memories. I’m going through a similiar time, sorting through my parents photos and things, trying to identify them. How did my mom happen to take a picture of Gary Cooper? I don’t know if I’ll ever find out more about that one. I noticed too that none of the pictures are labeled on the back. I wonder if they thought the technology was too special to deface it by writing on it? Or they were just too young to project that someone 60 years later would want to know more about the picture. Thanks for sharing. Love the pic of you and hubby.

  19. Oh I so agree. I have a box full of old pics my mom left behind. they are mostly black and white and must have been important to her and my grandmother. However I have no clue who the people are. I would love to know if they are relatives, maybe my grandparents as children or teenagers? it’s pretty frustrating knowing I have family history but don’t know what part of history.

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