When Cynthia discovered that she had the same name as her great-grandmother, it awakened something inside her. She had gone her entire life not thinking of any relatives older than her grandma—an easy thing to do, since folks in her family seemed to die off young—and now she had established a direct connection with a woman born over a century ago.
Cynthia didn’t know what to make of this. Her father and she preferred not to think of the past. Her mother left them both half a year after giving birth. This stung more than if she had never stayed around at all. What kind of mother sticks with her baby just long enough to know for certain that, no, she doesn’t want to have anything to do with this newborn.
Cynthia’s dad had always told her that her mom’s departure had more to do with him than their daughter, but Cynthia viewed this as selfish thinking. He just wanted to bear the burden all himself, leaving her with nothing to channel her feelings toward. It was a sign of their mutual depressive nature that she refused to let him take this from her. She would go her entire life beating herself up for being such a bad baby.
The two of them went on with their lives, and while it was challenging to fill the void in both of their hearts, they fortunately managed without a financial one. Cynthia’s father was a school teacher, and this was enough for the two of them to get everything they wanted to buy from life. Homebodies in their own ways, neither of them needed all that much.
Cynthia loved to read. It was a hobby her father said her mother practiced profusely throughout their entire time together. This revelation came early enough in Cynthia’s life to become a part of her character, so much so that by the time she was ten, she couldn’t remember her mother having anything to do with her obsession with books. Her father didn’t either, but as someone who valued education, it hardly mattered. He couldn’t be more proud that his daughter was such a book worm.
Sometimes the two of them would race in the evenings to see who would finish their books first. It was irrelevant that Cynthia’s chosen reading was short enough to fit inside a single chapter or two of her father’s, he would congratulate her on finishing first as if her book had been just as dense. Before long, they actually were.
Cynthia’s father wasn’t bothered by, how at only fifteen, his daughter was already reading faster than him. She started earlier in life, and that could make all of the difference sometimes. In a way, it was vindication. He didn’t fall in love with books until he was nearly an adult, and by that point, he had a lot of catching up to do. But in the course of one generation, he had started a family of readers. It was a small family, but it was his, and he was proud.
When Cynthia finished a book about a woman’s struggle to find her grandmother’s birth certificate so that she could prove her place of birth, the journey stuck with her more than any previous book had. For the remainder of the week, she couldn’t stop thinking about what it means to come from something. Or to come from somewhere, or even, someone.
That last one took Cynthia a while to build up to. She had spent most of her life thinking about how she had pushed her mother away, not how her mom had given her life. While Cynthia had never particularly ran from anything that brought up thoughts of her mother’s absence, suddenly she found herself swinging in the opposite direction, wishing she knew more about that part of her family. If she could call it that.
But first, she had to start with who was right in front of her.
“What can you tell me about what grandma and grandpa were like when they were younger?” Cynthia asked her father one day after school.
“Why don’t you ask them?” he asked. “You spend more time with them than I do these days.”
He didn’t mean this negatively. He was happy to that his daughter felt so comfortable around them. In a way, it made up for not being able to provide them with a daughter-in-law.
“I guess I will,” Cynthia said.
And she did. Her grandparents were happy to recollect their past with someone other than each other. They pulled out photo albums, yearbooks, and numerous other tomes with yellowed pages that surprisingly hadn’t yet lost their binding.
“Is that…” Cynthia asked, coming across a picture tucked away towards the back of the album.
“Yes,” Grandma answered, knowing the question. “That’s your mother.”
“And who’s that next to her?”
“That’s her mother, Laurie.”
“Did you know her?” Cynthia asked.
“We did,” Grandpa answered. “She lived just down the road from the high school. ”
“Do you know where she is now?”
“A little bit farther down the same road. She’s in the family cemetery now.”
The way her grandfather said this surprised Cynthia. It was as though he had made peace with knowing that, soon, his body would live in a similar place.
“What about the older lady?” Cynthia asked.
“That’s Laurie’s mom, Cynthia.”
Her grandparents nodded.
Cynthia felt as though the album had just hit her in the chest. She was named after not her mother, or her grandmother, but her great-grandmother? Why had no one told her this after all this time?
She sat there, slack-jawed. Eventually she reached out and ran her fingers out over the transparent sheet protecting the photograph.
“Take it,” Grandpa said.
Cynthia didn’t say anything, but she didn’t have to. Both grandparents
could see the emotion running through her eyes, the blend of shock and gratitude spread across her face.
Carefully, she slid the photo out of the album, unable to move her eyes from the three women staring back at her. Though she returned home to just her father that evening, as she had done everyday for all of her years, the void in the home felt a little smaller.
Life wasn’t the only thing Cynthia’s mom had given her. She had given her a history. Though Cynthia was still severed from her mother, she was no longer cut off from the past. In the present, that made all the difference.