Tag Archives: Photography

15 years later, celebrating the memories

I often wonder why it is that in my dreams, my dad always appears to be perfectly healthy. None of the pain and suffering that he went through during the last few years of his life seem to make their way into my nighttime images.

A few years ago, it occurred to me that every October, I begin to experience a sense of dread and depression. I finally connected this to the fact that it was late September/early October of 1997 when we realized that Dad’s fight with cancer was ending. On October 24 of that year, he died.

So this year, preparing for the usual bout of depression, I decided to refocus my thoughts, to remember the good times with Dad. To outsiders, he was quiet, shy, and — at least to his less serious students — a bit too challenging in the classroom. But those who knew him well appreciated his dry wit, his slow, well worded responses, his love of all genres of music (Pink Floyd was a favorite), his diverse interests — gardening, woodworking, exercise, baking, photography, even macrame.

And to six kids, he was just Grandpa. The guy who could answer all of their toughest questions, tell the best stories, give the best massages, stay underwater in the pool longer than anyone else, and fix whatever was broken.

Dad agreed with the well-known photographer Ansel Adams, that ““You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”

When we moved our mom from the house they’d lived in for nearly 50 years and later, from her condo, we sifted through — literally — thousands of photographs and slides taken by Dad, his dad and his uncle. As is usually true of the photographer, their lenses are usually focused on the rest of the world so images of them are rare. But in my own attic are boxes of photos, from which I found some favorites. It’s true that photos can tell a story.

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A vision in periwinkle, her sidekick in blue

Formal photos have never been my idea of fun. Having to smile for a photographer telling me to say inane things like “Dad has stinky feet” only make me cringe. Next to me, my husband is wincing, his irritation obvious.

The result? Fake smiles.

But it was inevitable that the church directory would once again rear its ugly head. We’d suggested to my mom that the three of us have our photo taken together. That was really the best part of it. Well, that and the conversations that ensued while waiting for the shoot to begin.

Some of my favorite people were there, some coordinating the session, others waiting for their own photo.

One of them sat quietly in her wheelchair, waiting to be photographed with her husband. She was a white-haired vision in periwinkle. Long ago, Mary and I had worked together when she and her husband were trusted volunteers at the nonprofit retail store that I managed. Mary’s personal mix of kindness and humor made even my worst days manageable.

Sitting there in her wheelchair, looking down, she seemed not to sense the others around her, so I bent over, hugged her and told her she was as beautiful as ever. She looked up at me, smiled slightly and then I saw it. That twinkle in her eye. It was still there. Relief flooded my mind. She might not talk much, but she could still communicate with her eyes.

If she could sit through a canned photo session, then by golly, so could I. As Mary and her husband entered the temporary photo studio, I wondered how she would react to the photographer’s antics. Would she be willing to look at him? Would she understand his directions?

The protective part of me wanted to run in there and fill him in on her history…that she’d once been a music teacher. That she had a beautiful singing voice. That — even after years of marriage — she still laughed at her husband’s crazy jokes. That she wasn’t just a woman in a wheelchair. He needed to understand that this wasn’t just anyone and he needed to can his goofy phrases and instead give her the royal treatment that she so deserved.

But I didn’t say a word. I was pretty sure Mary didn’t need my help. After all, she had her Claude. And more than anyone, he would know how to engage her in their photo session. He probably whispered one of his silly jokes in her ear.

She in her periwinkle, he in his blue shirt…I’ll bet it turns out to be the perfect photo.