Shared Stories: Pictures of a Birthday Party

Photographs carefully saved by an aunt were a revelation to Maria Gutierrez.  In one afternoon, the story in the pictures overcame Maria’s feelings of abandonment, and reassured her that she was loved.  Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns.

By Maria Helen Gutierrez

It was on a beautiful sunny day one April that my husband and I set aside time to visit my dad’s only sister in Monterey Park.

After enjoying a light lunch, Aunt Alice invited us into her living room.  Stacked in the center of a large, antique, brown coffee table were four family albums.  Hoping to find pictures of my parents, siblings, and myself, I asked permission to look at them.

Halfway through the second album, which was four inches thick, I saw several pictures of myself, dressed up in pink and lavender, and standing on a table with a cake in front of me.  I was surprised to know that Aunt Alice and Grandma Delfina had taken this picture of my first birthday party.

My aunt answered my questions about the pictures, and then I asked if I could borrow them to make a set for myself.

That day, as I looked at the photo albums, God helped me realize how much I was loved by Mama and Grandma Delfina. Yes, I was not an ugly duckling that my father and the boys in junior high made me feel like.

These precious pictures and the discussion with Aunt Alice gave me the therapy that I needed in order to overcome the feelings of abandonment and abuse by my father and the mocking that I experienced in school and church.

These pictures strengthened my commitment to be a loyal, godly wife, daughter, and supportive sister toward my siblings; and I desire to uplift others.

The following is the story that I learned from Aunt Alice and the pictures of my first birthday party.

Early in the morning of February 25 my mother woke me with a loving greeting and kiss.  “Elena, My Love, it is your first birthday.” She bathed me and fed me homemade “Avena” oatmeal with cinnamon and bananas.

After breakfast, with me sitting on my pink “Little Lulu” designed high chair, Mama carefully removed my “rollers.”  The rollers were shredded strips of rags that were used to tie and set my hair in curls the night before.

Mama combed my long, brown, thick hair, styling it to resemble Shirley Temple curls.  Two-inch wide pink and lavender ribbons were tied on both sides of my head in fluffy bows.

Mother and Grandma Delfina made me feel like a princess in a pink and lavender dress that Grandma had made on her Singer sewing machine.  The night before my mother had added white beaded ruffles to the puffy sleeves and hemline of my dress.

An antique brown dining table was placed in front of Grandma’s white, English colonial fireplace, which was freshly painted that week.  There was a mirror above it, and the mantle was decorated with streamers and ribbons.  The table was decorated with handmade crepe paper roses.

This was the stage where Mama carefully stood me. Grandma told me to smile as I posed for a picture of me blowing out the big pink candle in the center of the rose-decorated cake.

Calls for ice cream could be heard from my ten impatient cousins.  Mama served me a big bowl of ice cream with a small piece of marble cake.

Grandma Delfina caught me with my mouth full of food as she clicked her Kodak camera.  Thank God she took another picture of me, this time catching a good pose of me laughing and smiling while my cousins and I played games like Pin the Tail On the Donkey and tossing balls at Bozo’s nose.

Gifts were piled on Grandma’s antique coffee table which sat in front of the dining room window.  I enjoyed opening the gifts, and Mama and Grandma saved the wrapping paper and colorful bows. My cousins went home with a smile and with cookies made by Mama and Grandma.

Mama used the paper as liners for bedroom vanity drawers.  I used some of the bows to decorate my doll’s hair, and Mama would put some bows in my hair.

Now, at age 60-plus, I cherish the memories of the fun-filled piñata parties that I enjoyed the following years with my four siblings: Carmela, the twins Genie and Junior, and Ramon.

Every child in the world should experience at least one special birthday party. Now antique tables and vintage homes will always remind me of Grandma’s warm, loving and festive home where beautiful memories were made.

Thank you, Mama and Grandma, for blessing me with loving tokens.