Photography As Memory 4
I found myself getting very emotional at times, as I stumbled by accident across the photos of both of my parent's funerals; and more, the photos I took of them on their deathbeds. Then there were the family portraits of all of us with Mom at the Alzheimer's home, her birdlike gaze looking a little confused by willing to be merry nonetheless. As she progressed further into the condition, she became at times happier than I'd known her in many years, smiling more, laughing more, even as words failed. The sorrow of Alzheimer's, the worst suffering, is laid on those who watch the fading, less so on those who fade. These photographs bring up memories that are still too close, still too painful, too intimate, to want to spend much time on. They drain my will to go on with the day.
And then there are photos of family objects, some I've kept, some my sister has kept, some we've passed on to relatives. I've taken lots of photos of objects passed on, to remember them by: for the family history. Even if I no longer physically possess, this is proof of memory.
This is my parents' commemorative wedding plate. I remember hanging on the family room wall in our first home in Ann Arbor. The plate was a gift from our Muskegon relatives. The decorations are in the Norwegian style of wood-painting called rosemaling. I remember also practiced this a little bit when we were younger; I found her old paints and guidebooks when we were cleaning out the house. I don't know who painted this wooden plate; it might have been my grandparents. Or they may have had a family friend make it. My mother's family was 100 pure Norwegian, and her father, who was a master carpenter and builder, had been born in Norway, north of the Arctic Circle. My sister has the plate now. My parents celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary in 2001, and we threw a huge party for them, with lots of food from all the nations important to our family, and with many friends as afternoon guests.
My father's ties. After he died, we divided up his hundreds of neckties. Dad loved ties; he loved wearing them, and making statements with them. It was his kind of sly humor to wear a funny Xmas tie to church, and see if anyone noticed. He had lots of novelty ties, and lots of very loud, attention-getting ties, as well as classic colors and patterns. He also loved paisley. I'm not so into paisley, to be honest, but I kept several of the loudest ties, to wear in memory of Dad, and to carry on his sly "shock value" jokes with his ties. My brother-in-law and I each chose numerous ties to keep—I have some of the funny novelty ties, such as the one with a reproduction of Grant Wood's American Gothic on it—and my sister picked several more ties to make into quilting projects. I family friend made Xmas stockings for us out of some of the ties, and some fabric from Mom's clothing; a living memento turned into new art. That appealed to all of us. I took some photos of the ties as we had them all laid out on the couch to pick through. We kept laughing as we sorted through them, both with funny memories of Dad wearing a tie on some occasion, but also at the sheer number of them. We found more of them in the cedar closet in the basement, too. There may have been 400 ties, in all, or more. I've kept probably 60. We gave many of them away to friends, and then in the end to charities as donations.
I had forgotten that this photo was ever taken. It's of me sitting on the blue couch in the living room, Mom's piano behind me, playing bass unplugged. I was probably doing finger exercises to keep myself limber for an upcoming jazz gig. It's my 5-string Steinberger bass guitar, one of my favorite instruments. The year was probably between 1990 and 1997, when I was living in Madison, WI, 50 miles up the interstate from my parents' home. I was in several bands in Madison during the years I lived there. This photo is probably from a Xmas visit, when I came down for the holidays. I still have both of the blue couches, and the white chairs like the one seen behind me in the photo. I still the bass guitar, too, of course.