october 13, 2018

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“Never underestimate the power of kind words” ~ Unknown


the elders (not pictured were Darrell and Judy)


We had our fall family gathering today at Uncle Harold and Aunt Phyllis’ farm in Morgan County (that’s Eastern Kentucky for those unfamiliar). Fall’s brisk weather finally swooped in and made the day crisp and overcast. Perfection. We ate hearty foods, drank hot coffee, had our annual hay ride, shared birthday cake for Dad and Aunt Linda, and told ghost stories. In fact, that may have been the most fun of the day, sitting in a room surrounded by the elders telling stories of visitations and haints galore; the fantastic and the believable. There was something very, very different about this gathering from the others we’ve had. I sensed a calm in the air. The bittersweet thirst for those no longer with us while reveling in their memories in unadulterated happiness. Perhaps Cousin Brian was on to something during the hayride. “We are the age our parents were when we went on hayrides,” he said as we sat sandwiched between first and third generation Terrys. It happens to every generation in every family, in slow, often imperceptible ways until one day Cousin Brian sees the culmination of time in a single moment. The realization that the changing of the guard is fully underway. This is just one blessing of this family; to have sustained multiple relationships over decades that can come together and celebrate goodness. To be truly grateful for the gifts in spite of the sadness, to me, is a mark of great faith. That is something this family has in spades.


funny elders (not pictured were Darrell and Judy)

october 10, 2017

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“Appreciation is the highest form of prayer, for it acknowledges the presence of good wherever you shine the light of your thankful thoughts.” ~ Alan Cohen


carry on


We assembled at a nearby church after Uncle Greg’s funeral. After I had finished eating, Uncle Harold – twin to Uncle Darrell – approached me and said, “I don’t know if anyone has ever thanked you for what you do, but I want to thank you for all the pictures you take of the family.” I was deeply touched. Others have thanked me, but it’s always nice to hear it, especially from one as reserved as Harold. I remarked that he was noticeably absent from Charlene and Tony’s wedding photos. Then I giggled and began snapping. As usual when my camera appears, he recoiled (a typical reaction), but I caught him anyway (that also usually happens). I keep a 40mm pancake lens on my camera for ease of transport. I compose the images in the camera rather than cropping afterward. This combination requires close proximity to the subject, and it changes the dynamic of everything. This technique can, and does often, feel invasive, even for me (and I’m behind the camera). Yet this intimate exchange has everything to do with the essence of the image. Expressions range from hilariously candid to affectionately beautiful, but they always reveal some truth about the person being photographed. It separates the men from the boys, if you will. It demands that we each let our guard down in an act of trust for the briefest of moments. Not everyone can do it, and those that do are often surprised at how good they look. That isn’t about me. That’s about them. It’s the kindness of who they really are, and it’s a profound honor when they let me see it. As I like say, I’m just a reflection.

october 7, 2017

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“We live in a time when science is validating what humans have known throughout the ages: that compassion is not a luxury; it is a necessity for our well-being, resilience, and survival.”
~ Joan Halifax


least among them


Uncle Greg’s funeral was chock full of symbolism and a truck load of humor. You see, he had his coffin custom built. It’s been sitting in his cabin up Railroad Fork for the last six years. The utility company came through to clear the lines, and fell a walnut tree on his property. Rather than let it rot, he sawed it into planks, then hired a local Mennonite carpenter to build the coffin. He needed someplace to keep it until it was needed, so he put it in his cabin. Some might find that morbid, but for me, it was one of the most creative things to do. Why would you pay thousands for a coffin when you could have one built from a piece of wood off the land that’s been in our family for generations? It wasn’t just practical, it was meaningful. It was very Uncle Greg.




Greg had worked thirty years at General Motors in Ohio. Between that and his farm(s) in Brown County, he’d made quite a few friends in Ohio. The family held visitation in Ohio the night before the funeral in Eastern Kentucky. The following morning, Richard loaded Uncle Greg (in his coffin) into his pick-up truck, and followed by the family assembled in Ohio, they started a journey to Eastern Kentucky for Greg’s final resting place. Dad and Uncle Phillip fell in with the caravan at Index (that’s in Morgan County) as they escorted Greg up Highway 191 through Cannel City for the last time. I was told the whole journey was a spectacular thing to see. Greg in his coffin riding in a pick-up truck up Highway 191. It was very Uncle Greg. 


always with purpose


Uncle Greg had four children; the most of any of dad’s brothers and sisters. Those children gave he and Aunt Virginia nine grandchildren, and it was they who acted as pallbearers. The youngest is Pierce. While he was too small to bear the full weight of the coffin (top photo), he was more than big enough to bury his grandfather (last photo). I think he would have buried the coffin single-handedly if the other men hadn’t stepped in. He was being very Uncle Greg about it, actually; completely determined to do the job. It was a long day, but it was an extraordinary day from start to finish, just like Uncle Greg. 


doing his part

april 25, 2016

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“I’m not interested if you’ve stood with the great.
I’m interested in whether you’ve sat with the broken.”
~ Unknown


burning sycamore
burning sycamore


Saturday’s family soiree ended with a weenie roast, smores, and bonfire out by the sycamore tree. The boys had brought old wooden pallets and fine chopped wood. There was a chill in the air all day, so when it came time to roast marshmallows (or rather ‘mar-shell-ohs’ as Ray called them), they kept the fire stoked like the flames of Hades.


Mike's are on fire
Mike’s are on fire


smore talk
smore talk


For the first time Cousin Mike was able to be with us at the soiree. Living in Akin, South Carolina working as pastor and school teacher doesn’t allow for much travel. That also means not a lot of time with the family. He had to do a lot of driving to get to us, but he did it. He even did some skeet shooting (just as the battery in the camera died – sorry Mike). But what I noticed most of all from Mike is how he made the rounds talking quietly to each and every one as he went, pictured here with our Aunt Mabel. He’s such a gentle soul.


and then there's Shirley
The flame!


And then there’s my mom. No matter how bad she feels I guarantee she will do something funny before the day is over…like pretending to fart on the flames. As you can see much amusement was had at her display. She’s a hoot. I tell you, we have the best times at Harold and Phyllis’ farm. If we can’t be at Mamaw and Papaw’s anymore, this is pretty close (literally and figuratively). It’s all such a blessing.

february 10, 2016

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“One tree can start a forest; One smile can begin a friendship; One hand can lift a soul; One word can frame a goal; One candle can wipe out darkness; One laugh can conquer gloom; One hope can raise our spirits; One touch can show you care; One life can make a difference, Be that one today.” ~ BJ Gallagher


The oldest generation
The oldest generation (Uncle Danny not pictured)


The family reconvened for dinner after my uncle Roger’s funeral Saturday before last. My Aunt Charlene, broken hearted as she was, really wanted photos of everyone there. I’ve been steadily working my way through them. Just over a week after we buried Roger, my youngest uncle, James (seated on the right), was hospitalized after a series of strokes. He’s been battling cancer for several years, and it seems the treatments have taken their toll. Dad received a less-than-stellar doctor’s report just days before James took a turn. It’s been a hard winter for The Terry Family so far.


the nieces
the nieces


Despite it all, I remain ever hopeful. Things will work out as they should, whether we accept it (at first) or not. In the meantime, I have decided to observe Lent which I have never done before. My Grandmother Adams observed Lent every year in her quiet ways. She would often fast during the days, or for a few days at a time, or give up favorite foods for the full 40 days. I never gave it much thought as a personal practice until recently. Over the course of the last several weeks, as illness and death have befallen not just my family but so many others close to me, I am reminded that there are things I can do to draw closer to, and understand more about, what is most meaningful in this life. I figure observing Lent is one practice that could help me in this endeavor. So, on this Ash Wednesday, I have decided to give up sugar for the next 40 days. It will be harder than it sounds considering the American diet (my diet especially), but I will try. And when I feel the urge to eat ice cream I will think of all my family whom I love beyond words. Along the way I might even lose a pound or ten. My body is bound to thank me for that.


the nephews
the nephews