Fall is my favorite season. I love the cooler weather, and breaking out those sweaters. I like watching the leaves change color, though sometimes raking up all of those leaves is overwhelming! Hey, at least it’s good exercise.
But fall can be a difficult time for those of us who have lost loved ones. Whether you celebrate the holidays or not, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to escape the holiday spirit that takes over the country this time of year. I read this week that a radio station has already switched over to an all-holiday song format!
With the change in season, I’ve been a bit nostalgic lately. This photo with my father was taken in the fall of 2002. I can’t believe it has been 14 years. At the time, it had been awhile since I had seen my parents and my first reaction was that they looked “so old.” Little did I know what was in store. Dad would lose his mind to dementia, my mother would battle colon cancer.
But in 2002, my parents were enjoying a modest but comfortable retirement. I was earning a modest, but independent living. What we consider to be a mundane moment can turn out to be a moment to treasure.
I’m glad I have this photo with my father. It is one of the few I have before the dementia took hold, a moment in our lives when things were blessedly status quo. Don’t let those moments pass you by, document them if you can. You’ll be grateful for the memories later.
I’ve mentioned before how I started a scrapbook to organize and protect all of my father’s old photos, documents, and newspaper clippings . The project began with a rational purpose but I found myself enjoying the process. While scrapbooking is sometimes mocked, it’s really a creative process that allows you to tell the story of a family member.
I finished the scrapbook for my father, and now am working on one for my mother. I have found the process to be cathartic and therapeutic.
As we move into the digital age, scrapbooks in physical form will probably become passé, replaced by highly efficient, customized digital renditions. But for those of us documenting the lives of loved ones from past generations, scrapbooks are treasured keepsakes.
More scrapbook photos can be seen in this Google photo album.
Do you scrapbook? I would love to hear about your experiences.
Unfortunately, I never was able to meet either set of my grandparents in person. Technically, my mother was pregnant with me when my parents paid a visit to my mother’s family farm in Tennessee. She didn’t know at the time that it would be the last time she would see her beloved mother alive.
Of course, my mother was full of childhood stories, and she adored both of her parents. Her dad was more stern, a hardworking farmer who supported a large family on the fruits of his labor while being a diabetic, which was much harder to medically manage at the time. He worked until his dying day.
Her mother was equally hardworking, helping in the fields and managing the household. She was an amazing cook and helped keep the peace with eight children with her kind heart and patience.
One of my favorite stories that my mother told about her parents was when grandpa tried to get rid of a farm dog that wasn’t pulling its weight when it came to herding. He tried to take Scott up into the hills and abandon him in the woods, but the dog returned, with bloody paws, determined to remain part of the family. Grandma intervened on behalf of old Scott and grandpa backed down, sparing the lazy but loving dog’s life. Mom certainly adopted grandma’s love of animals.
Both parents had a good sense of humor as well, which my mother certainly inherited. That’s why I love this photo, one of the few I have of my maternal grandparents together. Grandpa is letting just a hint of a smile cross his face, while looking pretty satisfied, and grandma is laughing with pure joy.
Simple people, with love of family and life.
Now it’s easy to delete a bad family photo. If you don’t like what you see in preview mode, just hit a button and it vanishes forever. Back when I was a kid, you had to have the film developed. Then you had to go through the pack of good, bad and mediocre images, and choose which ones went into the family album. Or, if you had a Polaroid, you crossed your fingers as the image developed before your eyes.
There is one photo I clearly remember which did not earn a place in the family album. I was about four years old. Mom was trying out her new Polaroid and wanted to take family photos. Dad decided to hit the bar beforehand. He came home with cheeks as rosy as a clown’s and his breath reeked of beer. But he was happy and ready to grin for the camera.
Mom needless to say was not so happy. She tried to dissuade Dad but he wanted his picture taken … with me. I remember sitting on his lap, and smelling beer and smoke and Dad’s aftershave underneath the bar smell. I was happy, because Dad was happy, not understanding the source of his cheeriness. She agreed to take a photo, just to diffuse the situation. The moment was forgotten until years later, when I came across the photo, buried in a shoebox filled with family photos.
“Oh, I meant to throw that out,” Mom said and snatched it out of my hand. She ripped it up, trying to destroy the memory forever.
But her attempt failed, as I remember every detail of that moment. It’s not necessarily a bad memory, it’s just the ups and downs most families experience.
Here’s another one of these photos of Dad which I have no story for. I never saw this photo until I was going through Dad’s belongings after his death. I can make some guesses about the time period, but I have no idea about location or who took the photo.
I was talking to one of the librarians that knew my dad well and was giving her the update on Mom. She told me to brace myself and ask all of the questions that I want answers to now. I told her that’s exactly what I was doing, because I missed that opportunity with Dad and it is one of the things I regret the most.
The librarian still remembers Dad’s haunted hotel story after all of these years. She said she told him at the time to write it down, because it was such a good story. I assured her that I have recorded it in this blog, though I don’t have all of the details that Dad included in his version of events. I wish I had recorded that one in an audio or video file, because it is one worth hearing aloud. Alas, another missed opportunity.
Despite technology’s ability to isolate humans, I think it has also made recording memories easier, via text, photos, video and audio tools that are built right into most people’s phones and is easy for anyone to use.
Hopefully, people will be able to set aside that game of Angry Birds long enough to take advantage of these valuable resources.
I have started collecting the family photos I’ve shared through this blog and posted them on Pinterest. It’s a nice visual way to view some of the memories I’ve covered on the blog.
Family Photos on Pinterest
I put up the photos randomly, and viewing the board really gives one a sense of the roller coaster ride we all are on as we navigate our way through our lives. I can see Dad as a hopeful, handsome young man, as a loving father and as a sad, broken soul losing his battle with Alzheimer’s. All of those memories, all of those emotions in less than 20 photos. It really strikes home how photos tell the stories of our lives so viscerally. I think words help fill in those blanks that the photos can’t cover, so both are equally important.
I’ll be adding more to the board as I go along. If you have a board of family photos on Pinterest, let me know, I’d love to check it out. I am fascinated by old family photos whether they are of my own family or of total strangers!
Another one of my favorite family photos is this series of snapshots taken in a photo booth when I was a baby. I don’t know if it was Dad’s idea or Mom’s idea, but Dad is flashing a big smile while I seem less than enthused about being in the spotlight. My mom always liked the way my head is in a different position in each photo. It’s a cute series, and Dad seems so relaxed in these shots, handsome and striking in his snazzy jacket.
I treasure the photos where Dad is smiling, because he was notorious for not wanting to smile in photographs. It became a family joke that ever photo with Dad looked like it was taken at a funeral. He was embarrassed about the condition of his teeth, which were not in great shape. Being raised during a time of war meant things like cleaning your teeth were a luxury, not a necessity. So I think he started out with less than perfect teeth, and then he smoked since the time he was 16, and as I’ve mentioned before, drank coffee all the time, so they became stained over the years. In another post, I will write about my family’s many trips to the dentist, but suffice to say for now, that we were frequent visitors to the dentist’s chair.
But in these photos, Dad is not holding back at all, showing off one of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen on his face. The photos capture a sweet, carefree and innocent moment as a family, not bad for a set of cheap photo booth images. In fact, I like these shots better than any of the professional family photos we took later on. Candid is often better, especially when it comes to family, because then you capture people’s true essence.