A Picture of my Life

I just spent a happy morning at my computer, putting the finishing touches on a photo book of my daughter’s wedding.  Of course I have lots of pictures of the wedding, which are  either framed and displayed around my house or tucked into a huge photo album I bought especially for the occasion, and I’ll be getting a copy of the official wedding album from the professional photographer.  But I wanted to make a photo book using only the photos I selected, and doing it on-line means that I can easily shrink or enlarge the photos, and rearrange them until I am happy with the result.  Plus, photo books are much smaller and lighter than regular photo albums.  They’re so easy to take along when I’m visiting friends or relatives whom I’m sure would like nothing more than to look at at the photos of my daughter’s wedding one more time.

I know lots of mothers are a bit overly-enthusiastic about their daughter’s wedding pictures, but my enthusiasm (aka obsession) isn’t limited to the wedding photos.  I have thirty-one albums filled with photos, seven scrapbooks with pictures pasted in, and I keep my extra photos neatly labeled and organized in eight separate photo boxes.  I always keep some empty photo albums, just waiting to be filled, including the large one bought for my son’s upcoming wedding.  And just in case my print photos should be damaged in some kind of natural disaster or a house fire, I also have full photo cards in my safety deposit box, and keep copies of the pictures on CDs and stored on my computer.

Oddly, I’m not a skilled photographer and have never owned anything more complicated than a simple point-and-shoot camera.  I love photographs, but I don’t have the same passion for actually taking the pictures.  I think what I love about photos is that they remind me (a person with an absolutely rotten memory) of all that I have done in my life, all the places I have been, and all the people that I have known.  I’ve never gotten the hang of keeping a daily journal, but in a way, my photo albums are my journals.  The pictures in them are arranged in chronological order (of course), so if I’m having trouble remembering something from my past, all I have to do is get out the photo album from that year and look it up.  And it’s amazing how many memories come rushing back when I take the time to look through my old pictures.

Bernard and Martha_0013 (2)

I suppose what I’m really doing with my photos is documenting my life.  The old family pictures of relatives who died before I was even born remind me of where I came from,  and that I am a product of families that have been around for a long, long time.  All the photos taken after I was born chart the path of my life, both the good times and the bad.  (Note to self: home permanents are a really, really bad idea.)  Prominent people, of course, don’t have to document their lives, as others are happy to do it for them.  But for the rest of us, those who just muddle along doing ordinary things in ordinary ways, photographs work just fine.

A Life Well Lived

It’s been many years since my grandfather died, but today is his birthday, so I suppose it’s only natural that I should find myself thinking about him.  He was a small man with a gentle, unassuming manner, and unlike the rest of my family, he wasn’t much of a talker.  He lived, worked, and raised his family in the same neighborhood he was born in, practicing dentistry for forty-eight years in an office that was across the street from the house he lived in as a child.

image23-1_0077At family gatherings he could usually be found in the kitchen, seated at the table with the grandkids, drawing, playing games, or showing us how to make rows of little soldiers with his manual typewriter.  He was infinitely patient with us, and always encouraging.  If I couldn’t think of something to draw, he would simply look at my blank, white piece of paper and tell me that I had made a fine picture of a polar bear in a snow storm.  He was a natural with children, and always ready to accept an invitation to a make-believe tea party.

Shortly after marrying my grandmother, he moved into a two-bedroom brick bungalow on an unpaved street on what was then the outer edge of the city, where he lived for over fifty years.  Those who knew him then swore they had seen him sitting quietly in the back yard, holding out breadcrumbs for the wild birds, which would actually eat them out of his hand.  By the time I came along, the neighborhood around my grandfather’s house had become very urban, but he still put out bread crumbs each morning for the sparrows who gathered on his back porch, chirping in anticipation.

My grandfather had a very strong, if somewhat old-fashioned, sense of what was proper, and he stuck to it religiously.  He wore a suit every day, even after he retired from his dental practice.  His idea of casual attire was to remove his jacket and roll up his shirt sleeves.  Once, I saw him putting on his hat and suit jacket as he was heading out the back door, and asked him where he was going. He answered,  “I’m going to take out the trash.”  He didn’t understand, or care to understand, the more casual culture that surrounded him in his senior years, and continued to refer to almost everyone as a lady or a gentleman long after those terms had gone out of style.

Dentist officeHis dental practice was very busy, but not exactly profitable, as my grandfather rarely raised his rates.  He knew that most of his patients could not afford to pay very much for their dental care, and he charged them accordingly.  “Doc Jones” was well known and liked in his neighborhood, and for good reason.  I don’t think he ever felt that he was making a personal sacrifice by keeping his rates low, as he lived very modestly by choice.  His life consisted of his dental practice, his family, his friends, and his church, and he seemed quite content.

Sometimes, when my life seems to be a bit too complicated or I am unhappy because I think I need to have more of this or that, I try to think of my grandfather and the simple way that he lived his life, and to use it as an example for my own.  Because I can’t really think of a better role model…..