Things You See and Can’t See in a Picture


I love this picture. Me and my brothers: Poland, 1976, Wroclaw Zoo.

Johnny is on the left with his European man bag. Adam on the right with his 3 tone flare jeans that would have made any Bee Gee jealous. Neither carried this through in their adult life except for maybe when Adam spent $60 (could have it been closer to $100?) on a pair of parachute pants with all its zig zaggy zippers in the early 80s. My mother stroked out in the kitchen from price shock. I love the way the picture is cut off right at John’s bowl-cut hairline. It was the same kind of straight.  John turned out to be more the Hulk pants wearing type than one to don a satchel. I’m in the white and red dress, age 3, in my mother’s favorite color scheme: The Polish National Flag.

Other than beige, this was my mother’s favorite color combination that added pride or umph to any celebration like the time our Christmas tree was decorated in white lights and all red ornaments in the 80s. I remember how dazzled my mom’s eyes looked when she plugged in the Christmas lights. Her eyes so deeply absorbed in the tree, it was if she was seeing something I could not see.

I wonder if she was homesick.

In later years, when my Dad passed me a twenty dollar bill and asked me to pop into Wood Bros. Flowers, I knew what he wanted: white and red Carnations for Mom. My mother loved carnations. Perhaps more so than expensive roses that might too easily disappoint with drooping buds and whose full glory of bloom depended too much on chance. Carnations on the other hand lasted forever. Although when there were times a garden rose made it to the kitchen table and unfurled its many fragrant layers, she would cup it in her hands like the face of a small child and say in Polish, Look!

These are things that run through my mind when I look at this picture.

That and what I would come to know years later, that we were back in Poland because my Dad became increasingly sick. A kind of sick Doctors still didn’t have tests for. One with no medicine. A kind of sick that would likely involve paralysis and make my Dad unable to walk. The US doctors said it was Multiple Sclerosis.

They went back to their own country to hear it in their own language. My Dad was 35, Mom 38.

I look at this picture and think about where our minds were; for us, probably nothing more than the zoo. My brothers proudly sported their new gold watches and I felt the bounce of air from a twirling dress and knee highs, our backs to the giraffes, tired from our day. For my parents, it was something else entirely.

So much lay ahead for all of us.

But here we were. Relaxed. Waiting. In it together.

9 comments on “Things You See and Can’t See in a Picture

  1. stuart sanks says:


  2. Adam Matusiak says:

    So true Jannett. For us, at the time, it was a completely different experience. I’m so glad that we had the opportunity to visit Poland with Dad! BTW, I think the man purse suits John pretty well :-)

  3. Judith says:

    love this, Jannett….

  4. Rachel Lauvik says:

    Truly divine Jannett.

  5. renee vanni says:

    Love your stories, Jannett. Keep them coming. Enjoy your blog.

  6. I so enjoyed this story especially hearing about how your Mom loves white and red carnations and where the attraction to this color combination comes from, and also appreciate the way you contrast the adult view of a family trip with your childhood perspective. nice work.

  7. Ania says:

    Jannett I think It was Wroclaw ZOO not Warsaw. I suppose I have also some pictures from there… love and kiss Ania

    • Jannett Matusiak says:

      Hi Ania!! Really, it’s Wroclaw? I thought it was in Warsaw. See this is why it’s good to have relatives double check things for me. :-) If f you have pictures from the same place…you have to send them to me. The photo wasn’t labeled and I assumed it was the zoo in Warsaw. Your uncle took us didn’t he?

  8. Holly De Santis says:

    I remember your Christmas tree! It was in the back room just off the living room. found memories. until i read the part about your dad. i can picture him now sitting in his chair while we sat on the floor trying to knock down the cards we had lined up against the hutch.

    beautifully written. i can’t wait for your book.

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