It's been a while since I've written anything here. Shortly after my last post, I received some disheartening news, and from there life—and seemingly unending travel—rudely got in the way. I've spent the past couple weeks trying to gear myself up for this post, because I needed to not have the keyboard blurred by tears when I wrote it.
So far, so good.
Three weeks ago, an amazing woman died. Her name was Dorothy Hartnett. She was my grandmother.
...hang on. Apparently I will need a tissue for this.
Grandma Dot, as she was affectionately known by her grandkids, lived for eighty-six years, and in that lifetime she accomplished some amazing things.
Several years ago, a school project required me to phonetically transcribe part of a subject's recorded speech. Since we were in Texas, and my grandmother was from Wisconsin, I thought I'd be different and submit something other than the Southern drawl we were bound to hear from all the students. What I ended up with was a two-hour interview of my grandmother telling her life story, without interruption.
She was a first-class welder on the Liberty Ships. She was a photographer in a dance hall. She hitchhiked rides from home to school on a regular basis, lassoed a moose in a lake and had it drag her through the water, and burned her eyebrows off with a stove. She lived with Macy's models for a time, and she later managed a small shop in a ritzy hotel (where she was warned not to go upstairs with any of the guests; her friend did not listen to the sage advice). And she met a young man named Joe, who she referred to impishly as "the little fat boy." She also had this irritating habit of ending most of her sentences with a trailing "and that..." which made me want to ask, "And what?"
She was amazing. And stubborn. Right after Christmas she had another heart attack. My mother called and said they didn't expect her to last another week. Family descended upon the house to say their farewells, last rites were read, and we waited.
My grandmother was always a bit mischievous. She lived on for months afterward.
A year ago, my parents believed enough in my photographic ability to gift me with a new camera. I spent four hours reading the manual, then I wandered around the house taking pictures of whatever I could.
In the back room where my grandmother stayed, there were two recliners. She always sat in the one by the door. For some reason, this one day when I had a camera in my eager hands, she was sitting in the second chair, which was next to a large window. I raised my camera. She protested she didn't want her picture taken. I said something to the effect that I was a spoiled grandchild and she should spoil me on this one.
As we were preparing for her services, my aunt asked me for those photos. I went through them and had my breath catch when I saw the photo at the top of this post. That image, with her slight smirk and knowing eyes, is my grandma. That expression conveys everything I knew and loved about her. I feel like I'm sitting in that back room with her again, and she's spoiling me in some way. Devious. Impish. Loving. Wise. I will forever cherish this photo.
Too often I spend my time pointing my camera outside: at other people, objects, or places I have seen and experienced or are important to other people, other families. Too rarely do I turn the camera in, to capture memories of those important to me. It's rather silly, really, to not photograph what is so dear to me. I forget, much too often, that photography is not just about a perfect exposure or composition. The goal isn't just to have a pretty picture. Photographs are memories.
I will remember.
Grandma, thank you for always indulging me. I would not have this memory of you if you'd ever stopped spoiling me.