A Mother's Mark
Among brushes and powders on her mirrored dresser, my mother kept a photograph of me, age four, barefoot in overalls, face shaded by a broad straw hat. A young Huck Finn, someone called me, looking at that picture; but my mother must have been reminded of her father, with a pitchfork in his hand at haying time. She ordered prints for all the relatives and, for herself, a colour copy.
Back in those midcentury, preKodachrome days, portrait photographers pleased their customers by colouring prints by hand. So my denim overalls came out scuffless, my hair silverblond, my face clean of all but a shadow of the portwine stain that covered my left cheek at birth.
There must have been many who, glancing at me and turning away embarrassed, wished to have that photographer's crayon, so they too could wash away, or at least not have to see, the mark that disturbed them. It shamed them to think it was the reason they shunned me.(2)
Children were less selfconscious. "Who gave you the black eye?" they asked in all innocence, and were confused when their parents scolded them.(3)
Once, though, on a German streetcar, even the children in the back seat were embarrassed by an old man who taunted me. A war veteran, no doubt, he must have mistaken me for an American, with my blue jeans and packsack. Remembering, perhaps, his own house destroyed by a bomb, flesh of his flesh scorched and scarred, he hectored me drunkenly. Understanding well enough, though we had no language in common, I sat there denying: "Nothing. Nothing happened to me." I have no one to blame for the marks I wear, which anyway, are only on the surface.(4)
Someone, no doubt a great sinner, called it the mark of Cain.(5)
In Poland, it is called the kissing spot. Such children are cherished as gifts of God, are kissed and kissed with no fear of leaving lipstick marks.
My mother too, in her undemonstrative, Canadian way, cherished me. The year I started school, she took down my retouched photo from among creams and lotions and replaced it with a more recent snap, slightly overexposed, a gleam of light reflecting from my crimson cheek.***
Photo by Elisabeth Kim