Saturday, February 15, 2014

Photographs; A Collage of Memories

Fragments of time, they cover my walls, adorn my dresser, sit next to me as I write. Snapshots that cause me to remember, laugh, smile and at times cry.  A collection of moments, scattered vignettes, glimpses of where I came from, reminders of the love that transformed me, made me who I am. Portraits spanning over a hundred years; sepia tones, black and white, and vibrate Kodachrome encompass me. Beautiful reflections captured, framed, treasured and loved; everlasting memories that will survive long after I have left this earth.

A photo floats in a glass frame. In the background, a small wave is rushing in from the Atlantic, small shells dot the wet sand, bits of sea grass pierce through the white foam as it recedes back into the ocean. Sitting center stage, against summer's backdrop, my daughter, Kathryn, and grandson, Cole. The loves of my life.

My daughter's hair is pulled back, a few loose strands silhouette her sun kissed cheeks, accentuating her sad eyes and playful frown. My little girl's whimsical pout cannot mask the truth, she is all grown up. A brightly colored shark hat shades my grandson's face, casting a shadow across his tears. At a year old, the ocean is too big, too loud and too scary, even in his mom's arms.  The moment captured for eternity, Cole's reaction to the Ocean greeting his toes for the first time.

A series of white framed 8 x 10s displayed against a vibrant purple background are testament to my daughter's patience and perseverance. Cole running along the beach, exploring the sand searching for seashells, watching dogs play in the surf. Proof love and time can conquer all fears.

Cherished photos of people I have never met stare back at me. Their journey, their love is a part of my soul.

In the midst of ambers, beiges and browns is a photograph of a chubby baby in a long white dress. He sits on the lap of a large woman. Her hair is pulled into a tight bun. Her tailored white shirt and long dark skirt are hints at her stern German upbringing. Behind them a beautiful young girl with a short bob. The only thing bigger than the bow in her hair is the collar on her blouson checkered dress. I smile at her Mary Janes, remembering how much I loved mine. On the other side of the woman, stands a young boy. His bow tie barely visible, he looks uncomfortable in his knickers and dark stockings. The occasion for the family portrait, my grandfather's christening. A joyous celebration yet all they expressions are sullen. The portrait taken at a time when smiles were not acceptable on celluloid. "People of good character did not grin, smirk, or, smile."

Directly underneath hangs a faded color Poloroid from Guadalcanal, 1944. My grandfather left for war when my mother was one, returned when she was five. A year later, in 1946, my grandfather died at the age of 36 while stationed at Camp Lee, Virginia. My mother was too young at the time and  has no memories of him.

I should know my grandfather's voice, recognize his laughter but I don't. His embrace should have been a part of my childhood but it wasn't. He is a stranger to me, yet as I stare at him he is not. Standing in line with the other officers of the Quartermaster Corps on the beach of Guadalcanal I see my nephew's stance. My mom and sister have his blue eyes. My daughter shares the same rosiness in her cheeks when she smiles. His photograph reminds me there is a part of my grandfather in all of us, and so, in a way I know him well.

When people remark I don't look my age I am reminded of a simple black frame that holds a stoic portrait of my great grandparents, Jacob and Amanda Jane. Jacob's bushy mustache, pronounced ears, and slicked back hair make him look more like Wyatt Earp than a turn of the century Iowa farmer. The bump on his nose is the giveaway to his roots; it is a definite male Robinson trait. The image of my great grandmother stunning, my Aunt Jane, her namesake, is an almost identical reflection of her beauty.

Most amazing, the photograph was taken when my great grandparents were in their late fifties. Jacob farmed all his life and Amanda Jane had given birth to eleven children.  Together they raised their family in a small Iowa farm house, not an easy life, yet nary a winkle on either face. Proof the way we age is a product of genetics not cosmetics. Or, could it be, love is the best anti-ager?

One of my favorite photographs I was not part of the moment and have no memory of the time or place it was taken. I love it because it gives me a glimpse into the life of the man I love (and lost) while we were apart.

Inside the bamboo frame sits a photograph of Bobby, taken while he was on cruise, during a Navy tradition called steel beach. Aviator sunglasses, bare-chested, black jams with bright flowers, holding a microphone and singing with a band on the flight deck. He was most definitely 'Officer and a Gentleman' handsome. Even now he takes my breath away.

Most days I smile when I gaze at him. I confess there are days, usually in March, when his image brings tears to my eyes. The photograph, the moment, I was not a part of, reminds me of one I was; the first time Bobby sang to me. Thirty years have passed yet the night seems like a blink ago. The memory so alive, I can still feel traces of his heartbeat, see reflections of us in the mirror as we danced. Carefree, doors cast open, the ocean breeze swirling around us as we turned, the moon casting our shadows across the room as he serenaded me with Springsteen. Life was large and beautiful.

I often reach out and touch his picture. What I wouldn't give to hear his voice again, share one more dance, have one more photograph to place on my wall. There is no sorrow, I am truly lucky to have the memories I do.

My healing photograph is displayed in a brown frame with an off white mat insert. The trees in the outdoor chapel created a lush green backdrop for the portrait of my father cradling my daughter at her baptism. Dad's crew cut showing the first hints of gray. Kathryn's short flowing white dress pops against Dad's favorite tan Guayabera shirt.  Kathryn's feet in their lace trimmed socks kicking at his little belly bulge. Dad is healthy and strong.

After his death I clung to the photo, looked at it often, trying to erase the memory of his cancer ridden body. For five years I watched cancer whittle away his 6'3", 210 pound frame down to 135 pounds. My mind was haunted by the helpless feeling cancer gave me. I needed to remember Dad before cancer, when he was most alive, when he was with his buddy, Kathryn.

When Kathryn was younger, she would run and jump into Dad's arms. He carried her on his shoulders, in his arms, on his back, upside down, right side up, every way imaginable. Her giggles, his cadence as he walked. Kathryn was Grandpa's little girl, and she was the light of his life. I often joked Dad was the oldest kid on the block. To survive, I needed to remember him strong and playful. The photographs on my wall, exorcised the cancer from my memory.

As I type I look around me and I see my daughter, grandson, birthdays, graduations, weddings, regattas, football games, cheerleading teams, dances, Christmas, Easter, cousins, nephews, my sister, parents, family reunions; so many imagines creating a halo of love. Reminders of the many blessings God has given me. Memories I have clung to during the hard days.

I treasure my collections of 3x5, 5x7 and 8x10s, the patchwork of browns, blacks, pewter, and whites that decorate my apartment. My prayer, as I grow older my collage of memories expands and continue to give me inspiration and guidance as I commit memories to paper.

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