My sister, Jan, and I have spent the past year since our mother’s passing going through and emptying out our family home. I wrote about this experience in my blog post “Letting Go”, a few weeks ago. But now that the house is completely empty, down to the last dust bunny, and the official signing is next week, there is a sweet and unexpected addition to this story that I wanted to write about.
My mother loved to take pictures. I’ve also written about this, as well as my awareness and recognition that she is the reason I’m a photographer. I grew up with her always having a camera on hand, if not in hand, fully loaded and ready to capture any random moment at any random time. It could be a visit from a friend or relative, a holiday gathering, a blooming rose in the neighbor’s yard, a snow storm, a blurry snapshot of one of my siblings, or even my father fast asleep in his favorite chair. At family gatherings, mom was the unofficial photographer. You could always count on her to group people together for a family photo, catch someone in mid-bite (usually me), or someone arriving or leaving with a wave of the hand through the changing car windows of station wagons packed full of kids. She had a bittersweet sense of time’s quick passage, and a sometimes annoying obsession with capturing it in a photo. As I said, she is the reason I’m a photographer. I have that same relationship, and that same obsession.
This is why there were close to 100 photo albums in an already packed full house. Over the years I have loved looking through these albums, which documented her life – and our family’s life – from the 1940’s until she literally couldn’t hold a camera anymore, sometime around 2010. Going through these albums has been an ongoing project in itself for me and Jan. After a long day of sorting through a variety of rooms and items, we would usually settle down in front of the TV and grab an album, where we would lovingly and patiently take out the photos worthy of a final edit so that we could discard the actual albums that took up ten bookshelves.
In over 100 albums, and no previously agreed upon sequence or plan for which albums we would sort through or when, we finally got to the last album a few days ago. While I was busy polishing the beautiful turn-of-the-century woodwork in another part of the house, I asked Jan to call me in when she got to the last page of the last album so we could share this historic moment in a year long process that has included plenty of eye-rolling and frustration, as well as late night conversation and melancholy remembrance. ( I need to mention that many of the house photos were taken in front of an atrocious painting of a Spanish matador – a freebie that was given at the local grocery store sometime around 1968 if you bought enough hamburger – yet, taking that damn matador off the wall was one of the hardest moments for us … )
As Jan turned the last page, we were both incredibly touched to find that the final picture was of my mother, taking a picture. In thousands and thousands of photos covering a lifetime of honoring time’s passage, how perfectly appropriate that the last photo of her many photo journals would be a picture of HER taking a picture. It was taken at a wedding, and my mother was photographing the newlyweds while their photographer was photographing her. I love her smile. I love the familiar view of her beautiful face pressed up against a camera. I love my father standing behind her, in probably the most natural smile I’ve ever seen on a face that always reserved smiles for the count of three when he knew he was being photographed. All so natural and perfect. My mother and father, together again, as they are now.
And my mother, with her beloved camera. A timeless portrait of time, and the beautiful woman that honored it so.