Gather the Stories

A few weeks ago, I wrote about why I take pictures (all the pictures) and about one of the people who drove that need.  That person, my grandmother, passed away on September 19th and, while not wholly unexpected (her health had been slowly declining over the past couple of months), my heart is, nonetheless, shattered into a million pieces.

Loss is a funny thing.  The news came in the middle of the night (my phone rang at 12:32 am) and, immediately upon hearing what my heart already knew, I remembered………nothing.  Not one memory from my lifetime with her.  Instead, every unsaid thing that I yearned to say to her, and planned to say to her during a scheduled visit in a few weeks’ time, flooded my mind.  I wanted to thank her for loving me, to tell her that my life has been better because she was such a big part of it, that *I* have been better because of her influence, and a million other things that I hoped she already knew, but I never got the chance to say out loud.  It wasn’t until the following day, when I arrived in her hometown, that the memories came.  At first, they were just flickers and then it became a highlight reel, bombarding me left and right, and now, every time I close my eyes in a quiet moment, something new and specific and wonderful and, yes, heartbreaking greets me.  Maybe, by keeping those memories from me, my brain was protecting my heart in those first few hours in the middle of the dark night, but whatever the reason, I’m grateful that the memories took their time to find me so I can, in turn, take my time with them.

But, I don’t just have my memories.  Now, I’m the keeper of hers, too, by way of boxes and boxes of old photographs (it appears that my mission to document everything is an inherited trait).  She didn’t take them, but she sure collected them.  Print, by print, by print, by print.  I’ve known about her collection for years and my need to come home with it was palpable.  These pictures are my last remaining link to her and I need them almost as much as I need my next breath.  If you gave me a stack of gold, I’m not sure I’d find it to be more valuable than what I brought home with me in those boxes.

My grandmother’s early life was defined by significant amounts of sadness and tragedy.  Everyone (everyone) in her immediate family (father, mother, brothers and sister) passed away at a very early age.  Before she knew it, she was the only one left; all she had was her memories.  And pictures.  So. Many. Pictures.  My grandmother spent her life quietly keeping the memories alive of those who had gone before her with a story here, a reference there and, I listened.  I listened all the time.  I soaked it up like a sponge.  Much in the way that I feel like I could write a novel about my grandmother, I’m sure she felt like she could write a novel about all of those people who had long since passed.  Thanks to those stories and mentions, I know who most of these people in her pictures are.  I know her parents, her brothers (even the one who died at the young, young age of 19), her sister, her sisters-in-law and more.  I never met them, but feel like, on some level, I had.  But, there are so many other people that I don’t know.  My grandmother’s archives date back to the 1900s.  And, I don’t mean the 1910s or 1920s.  I literally mean 1900.  Brittle, yellowed and fragile, I’ve now inherited the road map to my family’s past.  Then, there are the pictures of my grandparents, my Mammaw & Pop.  Beautiful and handsome, young and happy.  In love, both with each other and their life together.   Yeah……I know the stories.  But I don’t know all of them and, as I sift through all of these photographs, I would give anything (anything) to hear her tell me just a few more.

And, so, here is my plea to you.  Get off of your devices (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, even this blog can wait) and go have a conversation.  Call or go visit the person or people who matter the most to you and gather the stories.  Know where they came from so you can know where you came from.  And, of course, take the pictures, but not just the posed, staged and perfect ones; the real memories, the ones that will sustain you for years to come, lie in the imperfect, spontaneous moments.  Then, for the love of God, print them.  PRINT THEM.  Actual, tangible prints that you can hold in your hands—not just the bound, pretty, easy-to-keep-stacked-and-stored photo books.  Because, one day, someone in your life will also be shattered and those prints will be their lifeline to you.

For 39 years, 6 months and 22 days, there was someone on this earth who loved me unconditionally, who was never angry with me (not once), who was never disappointed in me, who was never harsh with me.  She just loved me.  In her eulogy, the pastor at her funeral chose, rightfully so, to focus on the fact that my grandmother was a hard worker.  And she was.  But, I don’t think it was just a dedicated work ethic that drove her—at least not in the way it drives most people.  My grandmother was driven by love.  And, of all the lessons she taught me over the past 39 and a half years, love, faith, kindness, patience, forgiveness and perseverance were, without question, the most important.   I am the person that I am, in large part, because of the person she was and, for that, I will be eternally grateful.

I’ve been “okay” for the past several days.  Today is my day to not be okay, because I’m not.  I am devastated.  My heart is broken in a way that it never has been broken before.  But, I know I will be okay again, because she taught me how to be.

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A fraction of the bins of photographs from her collection
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One of the oldest albums in my grandmother’s collection
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My grandmother’s life as a small child
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My beautiful grandparents, enjoying a day on Pensacola Beach
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The last picture I have of my sweet grandmother & I
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Give Me The Gold of the Setting Sun–Artists Inspired Blog Circle

Our blog circle theme for the month of September is Gold.  I’m not gonna lie, inspiration didn’t exactly wash over me.  It didn’t even trickle over me.  I had to wait.  And think.  And wait (and wait and wait and wait) some more.  “What. The. CRAP. am I gonna write about and how am I going to tie that to the color gold?” is basically what kept running through my mind.  (Incidentally, the possibility of running out of things to talk about is exactly why I was hesitant to start a blog to begin with.  And, look at me, writer’s block just 3 entries into it.  Impressive.)  So, I pushed this theme and project aside.  I got up from my computer (since it was being an uninspiring jerk, anyway) and I played with my kids.  I read a book, I watched some trashy TV, I went for a run (that I am definitely not in good enough shape to do), I decided to never go for another run again, I played with my kids some more and I watched some sunsets, which is just about my favorite way to end the day.  Hoooooo-leeeeeeeeeeee Crap.  The sunset is GOLD!  The angels sang & inspiration finally arrived!  I LOVE SUNSETS.  I am so fully mesmerized by the things that happen at sunset; the way the day eases it’s way into night, they way people on a beach, busy with everything, become silently captivated, the way backyards become more inviting, the way the neighbors meander out into their driveways so the kids can play, the way the neighborhood comes alive with conversation and laughter and fellowship….the way life becomes so, SO beautifully lit!  At the end of the day, give me the gold of the setting sun.

 

Give me the gold of the setting sun,

The sky on fire,

The horizon ablaze.

Give me the breathless moments,

The watching,

The waiting,

The anticipation of the day’s last gasp.

Give me the golden hours,

The golden days,

The golden moments,

The golden years that soon will pass.

And when it has finally set and gone,

Give me the glorious colors of the

Day that is done.

Give me the gold of the setting sun.

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Click on any (or all!) of the images above to see full-sized versions and then, once you’re done, click here to see how the wonderfully talented Elizabeth Willson of It’s Still Life Photography has interpreted this month’s theme.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month and this month’s theme was chosen specifically to support that initiative and if you continue far enough into this circle, you’ll see, through the eyes of a very brave Momma, what it’s like to watch your child fight through this battle.  Want to know more about ways you can help?  Click here.

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The Artists Inspired Blog Circle is made up of an exceptionally talented group of photographers from all walks of life, from all over the world. They are wives, mothers, friends, daughters and visual storytellers who draw from their own experiences to create art that is inspiring, unique, beautiful and thought-provoking.