Recently, as I was reorganizing my storeroom, I moved a box, and this black and white photo fell onto the floor. The photo was taken in Stockbridge almost fifteen years ago. I was reminded of the wonderful days I shared with my mother and my sister in this lovely little town. Since I was in the middle of quite a time-consuming project, I put the photograph aside to save. By the end of the day, though, in all the confusion, I had misplaced the photo. How bereft I felt. I had so much wanted to study the photo and remember details of those days.
The calendar page turned to July last week. July holds the terrible memory of my sister's slow and painful death six years ago, and as I began to once again relive those saddest of times, I remembered the photo that I had lost. How I wished I could remember where I had put it; fear also lingered that maybe it had inadvertently found its way to the trash. Yesterday, I walked into the storeroom, and saw a photo lying on the floor, face down. It hadn't been there before, and as I turned it over, it was my beautiful Stockbridge photo. As you can see, it is merely a fading black and white photograph of a little shop which was tucked into the back of an alley near the Red Lion Inn. But what lovely memories it evokes for me.
I actually loved this tiny gift shop. There were exquisite vintage clothes and jewelry, all sorts of trinkets and lacy Victorian treats -- a shop that spoke to my heart, even though I couldn't afford many of its beautiful wares. There was so much I loved about Stockbridge -- the perennial flowers that were scattered about for all to enjoy, the peaceful shrine set apart from the bustle of the tourist town, the little shops sheltered in the historic old buildings. And how I loved the Red Lion Inn. It was a favorite of both my mother and sister. My mother and I often celebrated her birthday with lunch at the Inn. My sister and I sometimes drove over early and enjoyed breakfast, sitting at the linen-covered table and savoring the slower pace of the breakfast crowd. We wandered the halls of the Inn, and visited the gift shop.
On our many day trips, we would often drive down to Great Barrington, enjoying the antique shops along the way, and stopping at a nursery to browse among whatever plants were in season. I vividly remember one Saturday when an unexpected storm arrived as we started back from Great Barrington to Rt. I-90. At one point, the road was closed due to a downed tree, and we had to take an alternate route. One side of the road was thickly treed, with high winds blowing treacherously, and the other side of the road was bordered by the Housatonic River, which was rising at a terrifying pace as we drove along. I could barely unclench my hands from the steering wheel when we finally arrived safely on the highway to home.
Many of the memories are blurred by time now, with my mother and sister both long dead. I treasure those special days, when we strolled through town, chattering and laughing, lingered over breakfast or lunch in deep conversation, thoroughly enjoying each other's company, never realizing how little time we really had left together. I have not been back to Stockbridge since my sister died. Each year I think, "maybe this year," but somehow I cannot imagine walking those streets with someone else.
And that is why this photo is so important to me. As I look at it I am filled with bittersweet longing to go back to those days -- to just one more time walk arm in arm with my mother, and to spend a July afternoon lunching on the porch of the Inn with my sister. Times change, life changes, and maybe even Stockbridge has changed. I hope not. But, now I have this photo which I can place gently in a frame and remember the happy times. And, I wonder why, after all these years, this photo returned to me in the month of my sister's death -- a gift from God, perhaps?