All my love, Johnny

She stared at the message on the back cover, “All my love, Johnny”. Her mind works in mysterious ways. There are days when her children’s names are hard to come by, and days when I’m still but a child to her, but she never forgets Johnny.

Her chin starts to quiver. I can’t remember ever having seen my gram cry.

“Mom, who is this?” My mom asks my gram if she recognizes my grandpa in their wedding photo on the cover. My gram nods her head, unable to speak. She touches the image of the two, fresh-faced newlyweds, and lets her hand stay there a while. She seems hesitant to open up to the first page, hesitant to see what memories the pages may hold for her. My throat constricts, trying to hide my own emotional response to the images, doubly mourning the grandpa I never had and the gram I can’t imagine living without.

She slowly opens up the first page, smoothing the crease down the middle.

My gram turns to me and asks, “I don’t think I have ever seen these pictures. Where did you find them?” I can’t tell her I found them at her home, the place she longs for but is unable to ever return to, so I smile and say,

“From different people, you know, here and there.” An answer so vague that most people would press on with a, “No, seriously, where did you find them?” But her brain no longer questions reality.

She takes her time with each page, her gaze fixated on my grandpa. His face makes her as happy now as it did 70 years ago. A love like that never fades. Instead, it gets passed on, first to each of her children, then her grandchildren, and even her great grandchildren. As she turns each page, each image brings her life. She recalls my grandpa’s wild sense of humor, his love for his family, the life they created. Her voice is stronger and she seems surer of herself as she tells the stories that are associated with the photographs. We get her back for the moment.

She finishes the book, and stops on the back cover. She is quiet, pensive, and the look on her face tells a conflicted story. My grandpa’s smile brings her pure joy and momentarily fills the void created by his death, but there is longing in her expression. She would give anything to have him back. I wish I could give her that, but I can’t. So instead I suggest we start the book over again.I turn the book back to the front cover. He smiles at her in the picture, and my gram smiles back at him. She’s with him again, if only for a moment.