The Doubt

by Ulla von Czékus

 

The Doubt

by Ulla von Czékus

I sort through my family's albums. From there, and among so many memories and people that light up, my grandmother Analia shines more intensely. A black northeastern woman, born in 1906 in the municipality of João Amaro, Chapada Diamantina-Bahia, Brazil. She was the daughter of Augusta and Leonardo, whose face I do not know, and sister of Leonarda, Marieta and Celina, my great-aunts, with whom I had a relationship of friendship and affection. My grandmother married a white man that came from Europe to try life in Brazil. His name was Guilherme and he was from a country whose phonemes were foreign to her, Czechoslovakia. Analia faithfully followed the protocols of her time and dedicated her life, her body and her thoughts to her husband. Time, attention, care. Anália was the stereotype of the submissive, resigned woman. She gave birth to nine children, six lived, two men and four women, whom she barely cared for—with no time and no affection left. The children were looked after by Celina, her younger sister. Motherhood, it seems to me, was just one more role she had to play socially, by imposition. She, a married woman, had the duty to procreate. As for Celina, her sister, a single woman and surrogate mother, that of taking care of her nieces and nephews.

The years passed and with them life took its course towards other places. The family grew, the children got married, and the grandchildren were born. Today, I look at this story from the photographs and try to find out what I (do not) know about her. I rescue the only two memories I have of her: the delicious foods she used to make – perhaps her way of showing affection for her people – and her agility with crochet. I feel the images as if searching for her body. I wanted to touch her. I yearn to ask her about her life, whether the paths taken were choices, whether life was made from the scraps or the entire fabric of her desires. I look for her to say that I want to know more; I want to get to know her better beyond the image given to me by other family members and that impatience and anger with the energy of the children around her. Despite this, I want to manufacture her lap; I want to build the affection that was missing. I thought about these things and removed pictures from the top of documents on top of notes stuck to other photos and other documents and many letters.

Searching for her, I found us. I was still a baby and I was in her arms. I look at the image repeatedly and try to understand what it tells me. Was this lap a space for affection or just a place to pose for the photo? I was, there, too small to understand the sensations. And today, I am here, as if pierced by this doubt. My grandmother smiles, I seem to be sleeping, is this a sign that there was warmth there? I want to make sure the feelings were genuine. I begin to scrutinize memories of our relationship in vain. I cannot find them. There was no lap left, except for those arms that held me around that body. Two women whose affections time has smothered or hindered. This absence compels me to meet an affection whose edges I do not know, either because of its inexistence or
because of my memorial incapacity for those first months of life. I manipulate the images trying to materialize this affection. I recompose, deconstruct, recreate life through the force of the doubt of this memory that I do not want to forget.