a family history of eyes

A photographer once said to me For godssake don’t smile your eyes disappear. He meant well. I guess professional photographers mostly work for people anxious to look a certain way – like proper white with big proper round eyes, or something.

But though his words were true (and have become more true over time) I didn’t care then and I don’t care now because when I look at my eyes I see something special and amazing, I see a beautiful story that started back and back past my mum past my old granny Vik and through her mum, Anna and then back and back through all the grannys who I never ever met, back to a particular one who was born to a peasant girl in Central Europe somewhere. To the one who gave me my particular eyes.

My story goes that this baby girl (I like to think of the baby as a girl) was fathered by some Mongolian hoardsman who may have ridden through with his mates and destroyed the village and murdered those who didn’t get out of the way and left the rest hungry and hurting and scared.

And so maybe my so-many-greats-ago-granny was going to be abandoned or killed at birth, but instead when she opened her eyes her mother looked into them and despite everything, there was that moment.

Mine is a story of women and girls. Of women of the earth and potatoes and of goose girls and girls who spent their summer days gathering good grass to keep the cow fat and happy through the winter. Of women who grew and soaked and beat the flax to make linen. Of women and little girls who whitewashed their cottage with lime to keep it in good condition year after year over generations. Of women who endured cold and hunger and cruelty, who bore many more children than would survive and who loved them anyway. Their stories aren’t written down with pen and ink, though I know some of them through my old granny Vik who still tells them today. However, they are written in my body, inscribed in my eyes.

It is that these stories I see when I look into my eyes. All those grannys. Some of them are stern and serious. But most of them smile and nod back at me, their eyes disappearing as they do so.

The ground I dig is far away from theirs, but I love it like they did. I love my chooks and the neighbour’s goat too. I like trees and birds and being outside in the fresh air and sunshine and starshine. I love my family, the ones living now and the ones long gone. And I will keep passing our precious smile around for as long as I am able.

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