Friday, July 19, 2013

Let Me Take Your Picture

It happens every time.
People see me coming, and the smile freezes on their faces. The fear flashes across their eyes, and they're gone, ducking into a kitchen on some made-up task or into the bathroom.
You'd think I was coming at them with a machete.
But no, I'm coming at them with something they deem even more frightening: my camera.
I love to take pictures. It is a hobby that brings me great relaxation and joy. And most of the pictures in my vast collection are of landscapes and farms, much like this recent one:
But much to people's chagrin and dismay, it is not just on rides through the countryside that I take my camera. No, I bring it along to every family function. And if not my camera, then my cell phone, which has a pretty high quality camera all its own.
Contrary to what some may believe, I don't do it as a way to blackmail or embarrass them down the road.
No, what I do is an act of preservation.
My husband's father passed away unexpectedly in 2012. As part of the necessary process, we have been going through the family treasures that have been amassed through generations. Among those treasures are tins full of old photos and reel after reel of slides.
A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I started to go through those slides, and it was this indescribable moment. One minute we're looking at great-aunt whomever that we're not even sure if we're related to...the next minute we're looking at my sister-in-law's smiling baby face, both of her grandfathers on either side of her. It is a family treasure, that picture. And if someone hadn't been there with one of those annoying cameras, it wouldn't exist. That moment, that memory...well, it could be gone.
As we get older, our memories fade. It is an inevitable part of life. And someday, despite our protests to the contrary, we will all be gone. With us go our specific memories of people and occasions. What can we do to preserve these things? To pass on not only the stories but the feelings, the emotions, that go along with those stories?
I cannot tell you the feeling that my husband had finding those old slides. I can only tell you that I saw the look on his face, the mist that appeared in his eyes. I can describe to you that moment of silence that happened in the middle of his sentence. I can show you this picture of him, lost in remembering...and of our son, learning about his family's history:
I can show you other pictures, as well...
Showing off birthday presents
Still holding hands
The silliness of a grandmother
Over fifty years of love
One of the only times they've ever danced

Forever friendships

Playing with loved ones

Hands held (taken by my cousin)

Nearly every member of my mom's family

My mom's hands as she preps beans

First sets of Mickey ears

My grandmother responding to her great-grandson, post-stroke

Naps with Daddy

Making music

Passing time at the hospital

Joining a motorcycle gang with Pap

Generations (taken by my cousin)

Remembering and Honoring
In five, ten, or fifty years, we won't care if your hair was a mess, if your wrinkles were evident, or if you weren't ready. We won't care if you're carrying a few extra pounds or if you were making a silly face.
What will matter is that we have that memory frozen in time. That when we look at that photograph, we can hear your laugh, smell your perfume, and feel you in the same room with us. That for a moment, we have you with us.
Only photographs have the power to do that, to give those moments back to us.
Don't run off and hide. Just smile, wrap your arm around the person beside you, and let me take your picture. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Family and the Fourth

This is a day of mixed feelings for me.
First of all, it's my little sister's birthday. That fact, as far as I am concerned, trumps everything else and is cause to celebrate.
That being said, it's also a difficult day for two reasons.
This was my father-in-law's favorite holiday. Even more than Christmas, he loved the Fourth of July. Giant picnic. Tons of food. A fireworks show to rival those displayed by professionals. And now? It's different. Low key and subdued. We still get together and celebrate; he'd probably haunt us if we didn't! Still, it is a bittersweet celebration.
The other reason that it is difficult is that today is the day that my maternal grandmother passed away, and it is that particular day I'd like to remember. Sounds strange, doesn't it? Nonetheless, on that day and with that memory, I have proof that there is nothing bigger than the love of a family.
As I said, July 4th is my sister's birthday. Nothing terrible should ever happen on anyone's birthday, yet it did. It was such a difficult day, and as we neared the dinner hour, my Mom declared that we couldn't just let my sister's birthday go by uncelebrated. In the face of death, we celebrate life.
So that night, after we had completed our nightly farm chores, my family (my parents and siblings and I) returned to my grandparents’ home. Behind their house, about a quarter of a mile up an old farm road, is the family pond and pavilion. We celebrated my sister’s birthday up there, had a picnic and ate cake.
 The sun was starting to go down, and we were just sitting, enjoying the serenity and lost in our thoughts. The sun was golden, reflecting and shimmering in the surface of the pond. Occasionally, that reflection would ripple, the water furrowed by a gentle summer breeze. From our hilltop perch, we could see the back of my grandparents’ home, see the lights of the house and the lights of cars as they came and went.
Just as we were thinking that it was time to head home, stopping at the house to see the family once more on the way out, we saw movement from the end of the road that leads to the pond. A head appeared, soon transforming into an entire body as someone walked in our direction. That body was joined by another and another; an entire group of people was moving toward us.
As they crested the hill on the near side of the pond, the breeze carried a sound to our ears. It was the voices of some of my grandmother's children and grandchildren singing "Happy Birthday" to my sister. Their voices grew louder as they reached the pavilion and finished their song. We clapped and laughed, even as our eyes filled with tears.
That memory? It defines today for me. And when those bittersweet feelings are overwhelming, I will remember the sound of wisps of a song caught on a summer sunset breeze...