Is it possible to “tread lightly” in a blog post? Because that’s what I feel I need to do with this one. Minor miracles come along in the span of a lifetime that you grab a hold of, and if you had even one minor hand in their making, you stand in the mirror for a while and extend self-affirmation for what it’s worth. As any passionate photographer will tell you, there are times where the “shutter finger” takes on a life of its own and it won’t just let life alone until your hand has picked up the damn camera and done something goddamn special with it.
I went to my Grandmother’s house on Sunday WITH AN AGENDA. I had viewed an online course on glamour photography last weekend, which in the 90’s meant big hair, big lips, fuzzy sweaters and round, healthy faces framed with silk-gloved hands. Today, it means simplicity, and capturing the essence of the woman in front of the camera. It gnawed at me for a week that the most beautiful woman in the world to me (besides my mother of course) was 91 and my days of capturing her in a photograph were numbered. I haven’t slept so poorly in ages. I had to do it. She wouldn’t like it, but I had to do it.
If you know my Gram, you know a woman who has desperately wanted to reunite with my grandfather, a man I grew very close to just before his passing away in the late 1980’s. Since then, for over twenty years, she has watched her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren make roots and grow wings and learned all about it during weekly tea times in her own kitchen, a privilege not many women of her age have. She has “spoken” with my grandfather over the years about their reunion…when the crabapple trees bloom…and has struggled to understand why he hasn’t taken her yet. When first she objected to the prospect of having her photograph taken, I explained to her that she isn’t the only one who talks to Grampy, and that he told me not to take “NO” for an answer….that taking her picture is something I needed to do,and I found it was surprisingly easy to tell her he told me so.
I came prepared…small barrel curling iron (no waiting for the next salon perm), hair spray, pressed powder, lipstick, and camera. My aunts sipped on tea, ate cake, and supported my convictions, knowing when all was said and done, no harm would be done, and as Gram put it, she simply “wouldn’t be able to see the photos anyways”. As tired as she was, she gave in and gave herself to me for an hour. The Big Band played on her cd player, the sun streamed through the warm kitchen window, the cousins enjoyed an early spring day running about the yard gathering acorns, and I got to run my fingers through my grandmothers soft, white, rough, fine hair. Hard not to choke up just writing this. I didn’t get in all the shots and poses that ran through my mind in the days leading up to my visit, but I’m pleased with what she allowed me to take home with me. I now have a formal pose, both alone and with my grandfather in the form of their wedding portrait, and was even able to get a couple of those silly faces in between shots as my aunts joked about getting male models to join in, and I jokingly asked her to stand up and show her “booty”.
When I was 17, I wrote letters to my grandfather, a lively, loving man, being quickly brought down by pancreatic cancer. I had one simple request of him…to smile each day at 4:00 even if he didn’t feel like it. As I was told, he enlisted the help of my grandmother, who faithfully awakened him if he was napping, and each day, he made a concerted effort to smile when the clock struck Four. He passed away shortly before 4pm, I believe so he could get to heaven in time to smile at us from there. And at his funeral, I felt the weight of a comforting hand on my shoulder as I prayed in the pew and opened my eyes to find myself alone, with my watch reading 4pm. I went to my grandmother’s house this Sunday with an agenda, but the one thing that I hadn’t planned, and didn’t realize until the ride home, was that I captured some beautiful photos of my grandmother, at 4:00 in the afternoon. And I can guarantee you my grandfather was watching, and smiling…