“At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.” ~ Frida Kahlo
Today has been all about publishing I guess. I got home from work to find a copy of The Bible Belt Almanac in my mailbox. BFF Catherine Brereton has a piece about Mamaw in it, which includes some of my photos. Catherine was inspired by my exhibit at First Presbyterian Gallery back in October. (I absolutely love it when art inspires art.) It’s a story that’s happy, sad, tragic, loving, faithful, funny, and much more. It’s pretty amazing that she was able to wrap all those emotions into a short story. Of course, I was thrilled to pieces when they wanted to publish the photos along with it, but more than that, I was honored that Catherine found Mamaw’s story worth writing. It means more than words can say really. Then, I checked my email and learned an article Judy Sackett and I wrote is being published next month. Like I said, I guess today is all about publishing. Blessed beyond measure is what I am.
“This day, like all days, holds great potential.” ~ Jeff Davidson
My truly gifted friend Catherine Brereton wrote a story about Mamaw. After she saw the Sacred Spaces exhibit at First Presbyterian Gallery back in October, she was inspired by the triptych of Mamaw and how devoted she was to her church. That lead to a conversation. I told Catherine a story from when I was living in Barrow, Alaska. Having no real concept that I was 7,000 miles from Kentucky, and that, in 1985, FedEx not only didn’t exist (I don’t think) but they certainly didn’t deliver overnight to Barrow, Mamaw made two apple pies for me that she then shipped via the U.S. Postal Service. They arrived at my door two weeks later. There was some blue. Underneath the two blue and green furry lumps were my favorite apple pies. When she called to ask how they were, I said they were the most delicious pies she’d ever made. I didn’t have the heart to tell her the truth. I’m proud to say that Catherine’s story has been accepted for publication by The Head & The Hand for their upcoming anthology Bible Belt Almanac which includes the bit about the apple pies. I’m not sure when it will be released (it’s print only), but it will include some of my photos of Mamaw. Thinking about Catherine’s story got me thinking about the photo above from 2003 when Mamaw was only 91. BFF Crystal Heis was sweet enough to scan the neg for me since the rather large print is hanging in Aunt Janet’s house near where the original kitchen used to be. I thank my lucky stars every day that Hannah Hamilton Adams was my grandmother.
“When you’re up against a trouble,
Meet it squarely, face to face;
Lift your chin and set your shoulders,
Plant your feet and take a brace.
When it’s vain to try to dodge it,
Do the best that you can do;
You may fail, but you may conquer,
See it through!
Black may be the clouds about you
And your future may seem grim,
But don’t let your nerve desert you;
Keep yourself in fighting trim.
If the worst is bound to happen,
Spite of all that you can do,
Running from it will not save you,
See it through!
Even hope may seem but futile,
When with troubles you’re beset,
But remember you are facing
Just what other men have met.
You may fail, but fall still fighting;
Don’t give up, whate’er you do;
Eyes front, head high to the finish.
See it through!”
This is the little church my grandmother Adams worked so hard to help build. She spent many a day and night cooking over hot stoves to feed the community, buying dinners and baked goods she and the church women made to support the building and maintenance of their sacred space. When she talked about her end of life services, she said she didn’t want to be in the church. Not because she really didn’t want to be there, but because she thought it would be too much trouble. It was not too much trouble for the last remaining founder. We overruled her. Seven months later, when the 2012 tornado tore through town, hers was the only church left standing, suffering only slight roof damage. She would have been pleased.
It’s been a tough summer for many people I love, and it’s had me thinking quite a bit about legacies and end of life arrangements. Mamaw had done most of the work for her exit; making sure there was a will, her wishes known for the service, and money set aside to pay for it. You don’t have to be 98 years old to do this. Illness and accidents can befall us at any age, and if these points aren’t in place, things can get really weird. The sweetest people can get hostile and greedy when grief sets in. I’ve seen it happen more than once, and it’s ugly. If you don’t have your wishes written down, that angry grief can cause unspeakable misery. If you don’t have a financial mechanism to pay for your services, that money has to come from somebody else. Even cheap funerals cost thousands. A person’s estate, however big or small, can become a big mess if not prepared for eventual dissemination among the benefactors. Why make things worse for the people you’re supposed to love by not preparing anything at all? Like many, I have labored under the delusion that I’ve got time to sort this out later. This, despite the fact that too many people I love walked on in their 20’s and 30’s. You’d think I’d know better. I don’t. Or at least I didn’t until recently. So, I’m embarking on a happy plan to see a lawyer and write it all down. I’ll have the money in place to pay for it, and say exactly who gets what so that the people I care about don’t have to question the last things they do for me. That’s only fair to them. And it will put my mind at ease knowing I’ve done the work. Then I can get back to the business of leaving something behind that can weather a storm.
“Accept who you are; and revel in it.” ~ Mitch Albom
A few weeks ago the planets aligned to bring photographers Sallie Powell and Crystal Heis to my office. From that conversation I was inspired to track down some old film I had never processed because I don’t have space for a darkroom in my house. I sent it to a great lab in LA called Richard Photo Lab. I thought I knew what all of the film was. Today, I scanned it. Turns out that I did not know what all the film was. For example, I had completely forgotten about this roll from 2009 of the Gaumer/Cardenas family taken the same weekend their daughter Lilia took her first steps!
Or this roll from Christmas 2008 when my beloved Sadie dog was still with me, mom and aunt Janet were less grey, and Mamaw was still laughing without help from oxygen and had the Christmas bow stuck to her head (a normal thing for her). Certainly not my best work – hideous, unbounced flash – but the subjects are as dear as any could be. Their presence supersedes aesthetic any day.
What I expected were shots from First Presbyterian Church in Lexington. Lee Bowman was still pastor, and because the pipes were still a solid color, this must have been very early 2006 just before the church’s renovation. Most of the film was exactly that, First Presbyterian. Yet, somehow I’d forgotten organist Tina Wagner climbing atop the pipes: a favorite! In any case, these treasures, each and every one, are so welcomed. There’s something to be said for hoarding film for years. It really makes for Christmas in June, and what a delightful blessing that is.
“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”
~ Franz Kafka
I have been Leo’s intense obsession this week. Both cats are able nurses until the tiniest of spots can be seen at the bottom of their bowl. Then, it’s all about them. But that’s not this look. This look is just Leo looking at me with a knowing smile. I think he knew the UK Wildcats, his relatives, would actually play, and win, a great basketball game today (sorry Wichita State – you’re a great team). Even if he could tell me, he wouldn’t. He’s very Zen that way. He enjoys the journey.
“Optimist: Someone who figures taking a step backward after taking a step forward is not a disaster, it’s more like a cha cha.” ~ Unknown
As far as I know my grandmother Adams never Cha Cha’ed. At the very least she would never confess to it if she had. However, she was the eternal optimist. I try to follow her example. For instance, over the last year I discovered I was missing three very important things. Initially, this was, of course, upsetting, but I’ve learned that, if I’m patient, these things will show up eventually. In the last three weeks, the three things I’d lost made their way back to me. These pictures from Mamaw’s 97th birthday in 2009 was one of those things. I found them today.
How on Earth, you ask, could I lose such valuable photos? A few years ago I ran out of external hard drive space. In preparing another drive, somehow this series of photos didn’t migrate, though I didn’t realize it until September of this year. Now, two years of the outhouse and 31,000+ images later, I am, once again, short of storage. On the surface this may seem like a bad thing. However, it forced me to prepare for another organizing migration, and do a better job of it this time. Lo and behold, buried deep in the bowels of a Time Machine backup from 2010 (thank you Apple for being SO dang smart), I found the AWOL birthday photos along with several other directories that, for whatever reason, didn’t migrate the first time. I knew they would surface. It was just a matter of time. Of course, I am SO incredibly fortunate, and (pats self on back) smart to always, always, always keep a backup of everything born digital).
How do you make lemonade from lemons? I hardly call this find a lemon, but my poor organizational skills certainly qualify. Over the last six years I’ve basically thrown stuff hither and yon (virtually and physically), saying, “I’ll get to that later.” I believe 2014 is ‘later’. Plus, this post is a good warm up for the 2014 outhouse. I’ve been thinking a lot about what to do in this upcoming third year. There are a good many days when shooting a single photo has felt like a chore of uninspired, and uninspiring, photos. Meanwhile, I’m sitting on images that tell really good stories. Take Mamaw on the phone for example. More times than I can count, I’ve walked in to find her sitting beside the front door, talking on the phone to one of her many friends or sisters. She was incredibly soft spoken, with a laugh as fluffy as down, and she would sometimes cup her hand around the mouthpiece as if to amplify her words. She loved to talk and she loved to laugh. She could do both with the greatest of ease. I think the only thing she loved more than talking was reading her bible or testifying. Eventually, her eyes wouldn’t allow much reading, but her mouth worked just fine.
Let Mamaw’s 97th birthday be a warm-up of things to come in 2014. I will, of course, continue to hone my photographic skills, look for the beauty in every day, and be as thankful and grateful as a woman can be. I sure appreciate ya’ll walking this journey with me. It’s been an enriching two years for me, and I hope I’ve enriched your lives in some small way. We’ve got one more day in 2013. Let’s make it a great one!
“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.”
~ Mother Teresa
Some people think dandelions are a nuisance, a weed, an eyesore on their perfect lawn. In truth, they’re potent, hardy flowers that have saved countless lives for centuries. My great, great Aunt Hazel was visiting from Paintsville. It was 1970. I was five. After church, Aunt Hazel, mom, and Mamaw drove to a nearby farm to buy the Sunday dinner chicken. I stayed behind with Papaw to play in the creek like I always did. They returned 20 minutes later to find me deathly ill on the couch. The symptoms were that of a snake bite, though no marks could be found. My fever was high with sweat, delirium, and labored breathing. Aunt Hazel sent mom and Mamaw to the yard for a variety of weeds, most of which were dandelion. She boiled the mix into a putrid poultice then spread it warm across my chest. Within an hour it was as if nothing ever happened. I remember little of the illness. I was in the creek having a big time, then I was waking to Aunt Hazel’s angelic face. I don’t remember anything in between. I only know she saved my life with those dandelions. Here are some pretty UK tulips. They probably cure something, too, though I don’t know what.
“Every time you subtract negative from your life, you make room for more positive.”
Lori-Lyn Hurley turned me on to the healing power of aromatherapy. I often fill the house with the scents of lavender (calming) and cinnamon (revitalization). There’s never been an instance when it didn’t work, sending me off to bed for a perfect night’s sleep. I keep the burner by a small family portrait taken in Mamaw’s house the night before she had colon cancer surgery. She was 94. She survived, just as she had the broken hip surgery eight months prior. Together, the oil burner and portrait create the perfect setting for love and positivity.
“Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb. It’s where all the fruit is.” ~ Shirley MacLaine
Mamaw would have been 100 today. She almost made it, too. On my way to work this morning I noticed the crucifix on the Catholic Newman Center. It’s exactly like the crucifix that hung in her kitchen. We’re not Catholic. After the tornado, I found other Catholic-esque stuff she had squirreled away, like pictures of Jesus with a milagro heart and the Virgin Mary. Did I mention we’re not Catholic? I find it uplifting to view Jesus in more tangible ways, like love thy neighbor, do good deeds, feed the poor, that sort of thing. But these iconic symbols brought Mamaw great comfort. I’m grateful she had them. The fact is, we humans take comfort in a multitude of ways, both good and bad sometimes. It’s not a one-size-fits-all affair. So, from now on, I think I will write Mamaw a birthday card. That will bring me comfort on her birthdays when I miss hugging her sweet neck and hearing, “Grandmaw loves you to the bone.”