Have you ever seen this scene or sat down to one like this yourself?
I am visiting my grandmother’s house, one thing of which I don’t get to do too often. I have just had the most splendid morning, cooking in the kitchen, hearing all kinds of tales of when I was little told by my grandmother, (as I embarrassingly would blush and assure my husband it wasn’t that bad, and give my little kids faces as they laughed and laughed at the things their mother used to do) wiping little sticky syrup filled hands and looked into delighted children’s faces after a good hearty early morning meal. ThenI would find that normal everyday drudgery chores are a treasure to help my grandmother do. Just to be near her. Just to hear her voice. Just to hear her laugh, just to find my curiosity peeking because the more she talks, the more she looks in my eyes, the more I see a reflection of myself. I keep catching my heart in my throat, could this kind lady really help me understand who I am and why I love to do the things that I do? Our talking isn’t enough and I have so many questions to ask. But there is the garden to mend to, the friendly neighbours who come a visiting and need tea, grandfather has an agenda for the little kids, the laundry that needs a folding and before long, I find myself wondering up to the attic while grandma has a little rest.
As I walk up the carpet covered stairs and open the old door, I am distracted by the door knob that I try to remind myself to come take a photo of, but distracted not for long. For as I open the door, I find the most amazing sunlight pouring in, bating me to come find a ‘cat like seat’ on the cozy carpet, under the window near a pile of antique looking trunks. I of course rush over, feeling like the trunks are filled with treasure as my mind goes miles-a-minute trying to decide what kind of things I am going to find inside. As I open the trunk near myself, I am still not sure what I will find inside, but laugh with delight when I finally open it all the way. I push the lid open to lean against a near by stack of hat boxes and to my beating heart, I am thrilled to find that the trunk is full of albums, pictures and Polaroids of days gone by. Pictures of my grandparents in their younger days, photos of my great-aunts, uncles, and my! what an amount of cousins on all sides I didn’t even know I had. Photos of events, fish catching and first houses, babies and favorite pets. Traditional poses, proud looking nurses, mighty men in their military uniforms, and love letters snuck in here and there, from military men away love sick and away from home. I didn’t know that my grandmother looked like me when I was younger, and I never knew that my daughter had the same sparkle her great-grandfather had. What a treat, what a treasure, My what a sight!
Twenty minutes flies by, fourty five minutes, there is a grown-u-girl sitting on an old rug, a trunk open next to her with photos, albums, letters and newspaper clippings all over the floor on all sides of her. It looks like the photos have swallowed the entire floor as far as she can reach; it looks more like a piece of clothing that has been sewn like a dress onto her waist. Then all at once, I came out of the dream state I had been sitting in, I realized that the bright early afternoon sun was almost gone and I had little afternoon light left and should probably head downstairs; I can smell apple pie and nutmeg wafting up the bannisters greeting me with sheer delight. But low and behold there was yet one more album sitting on the very bottom of the trunk, right on top the old beautiful wood. I reach for it to open it, just to find my heart in my throat, beating faster still, when I realize that this album is not about family I don’t know very much about, but about my family, about us. About my parents, their friends, myself, my letters to my grandparents, some dried flowers I had mailed and of course more photos than I had ever seen before of my milestones, me, my siblings growing up.
I had forgotten. And I didn’t know all the things my parents did, events and things they lived through. Yet it was my grandmother that I had more questions for. I picked up an arm full, as many photos and albums as I could muster to carry without dropping and went downstairs.
When grandma saw me coming out of the corner of her eye, that twinkle came into her eyes and her lips lifted as if she was awaiting for this very day to come for a very long time. She wiped her hands on her apron, the white flour leaving hand prints next to some little hand prints that looking like they belonged to her great-grandchildren, and motioned for me to sit down at the table across the room. She tried to finish a few things before all my questions finally made her pour herself and me a cup of tea to come closer, to come sit down next to me.
The time that followed was full of stories and laughter and astonishment at the life and wonder that my family had lived. The memories and adventures happened were some of great surprise to me, but also made me realize who I really was; made me realize that it was perfectly ok to be me. The funniest thing was that grandma didn’t remember all the events and yet as soon as she would see a face or a series of photos she would usually instantly remember what happened. A couple of times she would look at a photo and get this distant happy look in her face and tell me she didn’t remember everything. When this happened, she would lean back in her chair with the photo in one hand and her glasses in another, leaning back and pondering. Closing her eyes and smiling. Then all at once she would look at the photo again and remember saying, “Oh yes …” then proceed to tell me close things to her heart. She told me later that she loved that I found those photos, because it helped her remember things long gone and past that she had almost forgot, but it was worth remembering and treasuring. *******
This description, scene, and or storyline is very dear to my heart because it is actually compiled of several different times I have done this in my life.
One time this occurred when I was at my great-grand-mothers house (my mother’s mother’s mother) she lives in New Mexico in a house full to the brim of boxes and “treasure chests” all filling rooms to the ceiling with memories of all and about her family. We ate pecans that fell out of her pecan tree in the backyard, looked through letters, photos and albums all the while hearing stories of many a good tale of generations living and loving life. I was 9.
The attic scene happened many, many a day with my husband’s grandmother, whom I love dearly. It brought up questions and stories I didn’t even know existed, led me on quite an adventure learning about the families heritage and history, all the while giving me a heart for my parents-in-law and giving me a deep love for the land that both my children were born on and into. My love for family heritage started because I found a trunk full of photos in my (husbands but lets just say she’s mine ) grandmother’s attic.
This also happened with my father’s mother when I was 15 years old and very sick, thus the ability to not have to chip in the chores like everyone else. It was my grandmother who laughed so much when I came round the corner with a stack of photos, her saying, “now how did you find all those old things” and laughed as she couldn’t remember half the people in the photos until she would stop and think about it all, with photo in hand. I loved those days because it helped me understand my grandmother, it helped me understand my father and it helped me understand me a little bit more.
And this story also happened with my grandmother, my mother’s mother whom I only saw a handful of times in my life. We were visiting her in her home in California when I was 9 years old and she particularly was very interesting to me because I saw my eclectic creative side brought to life because of her stand and love for the arts, for everything creative. I remember going into a room full of dolls, shoes, jewellery, hats, old keys records and of course photos, going through them to my hearts delight. My grandmother and mother were looking for me and found me on the floor, sitting on a rug, surrounded on all sides by photos. My mother’s getting after me for making a mess in someone else’s things, turned very quickly into my grandmother sitting down, pulling me onto her lap and showing me life’s treasured moments and explaining over and over agin that life was precious and needed to be remembered. She died just this last past Christmas season and I never had another close encounter with her ever after that visit, where I sat on her lap and we looked at photos. I am very sad that I never got to know her better, but I love that my last memories of her and I were over tears, laughs, life lessons and photos.
None of these moments happened very often, in fact with the world speeding by us, it seems like visiting my grandparents rarely ever happens, but I wanted it to happen more often than it did.
None of these ladies were photographers, none of them took photos, and not one knew anything about photography really. But they all had thousands of memories that were dusted off by a little girl carrying in an armful of photographs.
They all taught me why I love photography so. That photographs really do help us remember those treasured breaths through all of life’s journeys. And they taught me that life is an adventure; it’s ours for the making and for the remembering, photographs just help along the way.