Sister lives away, and has done for a bit more than two years, so it was quite the event when she travelled her, new baby in tow. Everyone she knows was thrilled - which is to say 99.9 percent of everyone. Having her, her daughter and my mother all in the same place, given her age, and my mother's age, is an event in itself. Add to this our grandmother, who is 107 and I, the photographer side of I, thought what a great opportunity to create a generational piece.
I envisioned a photo of my niece, framed, and then a photo of my sister holding said frame, and then a photo of my mother holding that photograph, framed, and then, I hoped, I would engage my cousin in Nova Scotia, where our grandmother lives, to take the final shot, that of our grandmother holding said framed photo of the three generations after her.
Our mother is, in a word, odd. She lives a fantasy life, where, when we are all together, everything is butterflies and roses. In real life, however, when we are all together, she resents every moment she is not the centre of attention. Imagine her discontent when everyone's focus was on my sister and little niece. Within days of my sister's arrival, my mother was beyond discontent. Within a week, she was fully-armed and stomping about the warpath, engaged at every moment in a quest to convince my sister she is an entirely flawed human and most of that stems from MY presence on the planet. She has, since my sister and niece's departure home, kept up a out-and-out campaign of discrediting my sister and me, and the guest my sister brought and who my mother welcomed with both of her two faces.
My mother is jealous and angry. We have another sister, who puts my mother's behaviour down to her age. But my mother has never been content. My entire life she has been angry and self-absorbed and narcissistic - and, as my entire life is more than fifty years, I cannot put it down to age; it's something in her cells.
When 15 days of my sister's visit had passed, it was clear this photograph was not going to happen and, more importantly, perhaps should not happen. I regret this part very much, but I could not in any ethical sense, burden my sister with this project, which would have culminated in a photograph she would probably hate, not for the fact of four generations and such an amazing range of ages, but for the reality of having to explain, someday, to my niece, who these women were and why we had so little to do with them.
I hope we are rare as a family. I hope - I wish it fervently - we are members of a very small minority of people whose families are this fractured. We are not friends with our mother. We do not like her. Mostly we do not and cannot trust her. She is the definition of an abusive parent, lulling us into complacency, as we keep our distance from her. How many times have we thought, "She seems to have finally mellowed," only to reconnect and have her strike again, like a viper, leasing her venom to waft its stink about us.
So there will be no four-generation photograph because the memories it would bring would be near-deadly.