A gallery of photographs has adorned the walls of my various apartments since I left the Boston home of my great-grandmother in 1971 to live in New York City. Each of the faces -- my mother, Dolores; her mother, Lydia; her mother Grace; and yet another, Sarah, before her; alongside my father, brother, step-mother -- has each in its own turn been a focal point for me. Most often though it has been the face of my great-grandmother Grace, the woman who raised me, that most fascinated me. She, who was always most reticent to have her soul captured on a piece of shining paper. Her square Iowa tribal face was often shielded by wire spectacles that concealed her impish humor but not her unyielding resolve. From my childhood perspective (one I've clung to until most recently), she embodied the security of my youth, the impressive influence of our past and the endurance of African/Native American women.
Her daughter, Lydia, with whom I've been most close in the past ten years, represented the possibilities of beauty. In the pictures her face shines with charm, intelligence and sensuality. I never dress, sing, kiss, teach or sew without seeing that face, for she was the one who taught me those things. But she died this summer and I cannot touch that loss yet. It is the face of my mother, Dolores, which holds my eye now as I feel the chilly departure of my youth. Hers is a face of uncertainty, the unknown. Although it is clear we are all descendants of Sarah, whom I never knew, Dolores and I grow ever closer in resemblance each year. Her portrait among the others is arch, sophisticated, distant, like many done of glamourous women in the early 1950s. I can see the painted line of her eyebrow, the deliberate softness of her jawline, the romanticized wave of her hair. In the corner her inscription to me in 1952 is still faintly visible in the dramatic script I