A few weeks after the death of their first child at three months, my parents packed up a truck and drove from Cambridge, Massachusetts to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. My father was about to begin his first job as a chemist at the University of North Carolina. They had lost their baby at sea, on the Queen Elizabeth, on their return from two years in Cambridge, England, where my father had had a Fulbright.
There is a picture of my parents, along with my grandfather, my mother’s sister Sally, and my father’s brother Henry, lounging on the truck in the driveway of my grandparents’ home in Massachusetts. The spirit of the photo is one of adventure, a young couple about to embark on a new life. Presumably my grandmother took the photo, and she was apt to pose her subjects quite deliberately. Henry’s jaunty pose, with his crossed legs mirroring the crossed legs of my grandfather, may have been staged. My parents, Ellen and Kerro, both lean their heads in their hands, and Sally lies across the hood of the truck with a closed mouth smile, leaning on her elbows. I can easily imagine my grandmother arranging all of them in her commanding way before she snapped the shot.
My mother’s smile is reliably broad, and my father looks content enough. They all wear casual clothes and look a little dusty, as if they have just finished packing the truck. My father looks the most put together, as a young professor should, with his Oxford shoes and his shirt tucked in, his pants cleanly belted.
There is no sign of the missing baby, Elizabeth. Maybe in Sally’s restrained smile, Kerro’s shrug into his hand. Maybe. But the photo is about a journey, about moving forward. About a new life.
Still, I search for signs of Lizzie on my mother’s smiling face. Lizzie who died mysteriously in her crib on the Queen Elizabeth.
The beginning of a married life.