Archives for category: photographs

This is the family and some friends, gathered for an afternoon of croquet. I can imagine them going enmass, dressed like this, to the medicine show. My mom and Uncle Billy look like they walked straight out of The Little Rascals, which is extremely cool.

Like the last one about Honest John the traveling salesman, my mom’s memories of a traveling medicine show move past quaint right on into historical. Such experiences were certainly long gone by the time I was a child. My mom was born in 1919 and since the area where she grew up was extremely rural, it makes sense that there were still medicine shows in her early lifetime. I imagine they began to fade as more and more people bought Model Ts and did more of their own shopping, with newfound ease. 

She didn’t have a specific story about the medicine show, like the experience with Honest John. She just told me as much as she remembered. I can imagine a little girl, wide eyed with excitement and wonder, going with her entire family to see the show. There wasn’t a lot of entertainment in those days, so it would be thrilling for them all to have an opportunity to gather with their family and friends to find out what the medicine show brought to town.

It was set up in the grassy area beside the railroad tracks at the edge of town. There was the medicine wagon, where the showman would set up his displays. An acompanying Native American performer came out first, to dance to the beat of a drum. This would have been a unique and exciting way to warm up the crowd.

Then the medicine seller extraordanaire would begin his oration that probably somewhat resembled an old time fire and brimstone preacher trying to win reluctant souls, only this fist popper was intent on winning money from reluctant pockets. 

I don’t know everything he said. My mom couldn’t remember after many decades. She did retain one line that I too have never forgotten. The man with what he promised was intense healing elixer, proclaimed at the top of his lungs: 

“It’s good for your blood, liver, and bladder. If you don’t buy some now, you’re gonna wish you hadder!”

I can’t help but wonder how many of the area’s little old ladies didn’t want to wish they hadder and ended up gathered around a piano singing China Town at the top of their tipsy lungs, like Aunt Bea and the teatotaling Mayberry church auxillary ladies, when the Colonel and his elixer paid the quiet little town a visit. My mom didn’t know how much the medicine show man sold, but it seemed he didn’t linger in any one place for long. Of course, one might be able to consult any remaining records of suddenly cured blood, liver and bladder ailments….

Stories like this are priceless to me. They’re part of the history of the time, the community, and connect a thread through both to my family. I suspect that my mom was the last person I’ll ever know with such an experience in their past. So many people nearing a hundred years of age either don’t think anyone would be interested in such memories or they have succumbed to Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, and these kinds of stories are lost forever.

I always loved hearing my mom talk about anything she could think of. Sometimes, when we were under tornado watches, veering toward warnings, we would sit together with the radio volume low so we could know when to dash for her big walkin closet. I would shove back my dread and fear with the words that I knew would begin the process of shunting aside my interior little girl who had always been afraid of tornadoes. “Tell me about a long time ago.”

She would smile away the worst of our fears and tell me her wonderful memories, until a night of danger was turned into a vehicle into her past. A place and time where there was no electricity, the phone on the wall had to be cranked, and a man with a mission to sell a miracle elixer enthralled the entire countryside with a little hope, a little dream, and a bottle full of promises.

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One of the best things about modern mobile phones is that since the phone is always with us, so is its camera. No more groping in the glove compartment for the digital camera we vowed to always carry, but didn’t. Easy access to a decent camera, means easy access to the constant show put on for us by whatever piece of sky we happen to pass beneath. 

Here are a few moments I’ve captured while out​ in the car:

At first glance I thought this was a single beautiful rainbow’s end. By the time I stopped, grabbed my phone, and got out it became clear that it was double, and possibly becoming triple.The lowering sun made the colors and the winter wheat as well look almost neon. It doesn’t always take absolute sunset to bring vivid color to a late evening sky.

This firey sunset looks more like the skyview of another planet than a mere earthly skyshow. Arresting and irresistible​, it’s one of my favorite inland sunset images I’ve ever encountered.

Here we have one of those cloud formations that looks like an animal. A shark, no less. Beautiful. And a bit scary, once it registers that it looks like it’s on fire…and has wings! The stuff of nightmares, or dreamy dreams, depending on the disposition of the person who looks up to see it.

The almost sunset sky angled light on this contrail for a hint of color. A pale pink javelin, to the imaginationally gifted, instead of an everyday occurance above our heads. 

Sometimes a phone’s camera isn’t quite up to capturing what the discerning eye catches sight of. At first glance this wide view appears to be simply the moon against a cloud scattered blue sky. However, if you enlarge it a bit, you’re rewarded with a vision of Pac Man riding an almost dolphin shaped cloud.

Our sky is filled with wonders. If we’re lucky we can catch random moments to revisit at the tap of an app.

Here’s a lovely article about Virginia Woolf as a photographer. I find it so captivating that she enjoyed capturing moments of her life through photography, as she captured mental snapshots of her characters’ lives. Her writing is so vivid that the imagery it conjurs can be like stills taken from a movie that plays out in the reader’s head. The photographs in the article seem like a continuation of this, only in this venue it is we who must make up our own mental stories to accompany images that only Virginia Woolf knew the true meaning of. What she was thinking as she pressed the shutter, then as she later looked at the developed images…that is a mystery only she knew. For her admirers, however, it’s a book lover’s thrill to be given the privilege of seeing her world through her own discerning gaze..

Last week I heard on the news that a lake not too far away had frozen over. I remembered going to see it during another frigid blast and decided to go again. Not only did I want to refresh my memory about how beautiful it was, I also thought it would be a great opportunity to gain some experience with my new DSLR.

I hadn’t been there often since I was a child. Back then we went every year for a family reunion picnic, and sometimes just to walk around and enjoy the water views. So, of course I took a wrong turn and wound my way around the entire lake, before eventually arriving at the familiar picnic site. I stopped to take pictures of many beautiful spots and intriguing details as they appeared.

Farther out the ice was smooth as glass, as seen in the image above.

Close in it was made up of a giant sheet of circles. The surface of individual circles was concave, which gave large areas a rough textured look.

Along the shore thick ice settled on various types of vegetation. As time passed, it grew brittle and shattered. Shards resettled to make new formations that could look like milk white broken glass.

Trees near the water wore ice dresses that seemed to flow and freeze, according to the direction of the wind, until the rippling mass was captured in place like vertical waves.

Reelfoot Lake was formed during a series of massive earthquakes, in 1811 and 1812, when this huge area of land collapsed. The Mississippi River flowed backwards to fill in the depression and the lake is the result. Cypress trees like the one above are the tops of the original trees jutting out of the water. The cypress knees capture the ice and make a platform for it to build into oddly shaped clumps.

The bases of the cypress trees near the shore look like the feet of some animal not of this world, dipped in ice and frozen in place to await the coming thaw.

I’m very pleased with how my camera performed. It’s a real pleasure to use, though I’m sure I’ll be discovering new aspects for a long time. It was nice of Mother Nature to provide me with such a gorgeous subject to start my DSLR journey.

Today would have been my mom’s 98th birthday. To commemorate the occasion I have one of her stories that makes me smile.

One day when she’s a little girl, she follows her mother around the house, helping with chores as much as she can. They hear a clatter from outside, and Grandmother sighs wearily. A peek around the curtains reveals the last thing a tired housewife wants to see. Honest John, a traveling salesman with a route that brings him to Miss Georgie’s door more often than she’d like. With a house full of children and a tight budget, temptation can be a curse. Even in the form of a walking store.

In no mood to be forced into roles as both hostess and reluctant shopper, this always (almost) sweet and welcoming housewife turns to her little daughter, bends low so as not to be misunderstood, and whispers into the small ear. “It’s Honest John! C’mon, Sarah. Let’s hide!”

A little shocked and a lot thrilled, by the unexpected game, Sarah takes her mother’s outstretched hand and creeps quietly with her across the big stretches of floor, until they reach the kitchen. They carefully pull out chairs and sit at the big wooden table where the family shares meals, celebrations and, apparently, sudden impromptu clandestine adventures.

The thing about impromptu clandestine adventures is that, not being well thought out, they they tend to fail. 

Not for lack of trying. 

Miss Georgie holds a finger to her lips, Little Sarah suppresses a stray giggle, and they relax, certain their unwanted visitor will soon leave. 

A knock at the front door.

Silence.

A second, more insistent knock.

“Miss Georgie?”

Breath-holding quiet blankets the house.

The conspirators share a smile. Surely, he’s halfway down the road, now that he’s given up….

“Good afternoon, Miss Georgie!”

Miss Georgie and Little Sarah nearly jump out of their chairs.

There stands Honest John, at the kitchen window, grinning at them through the screen. 

Of course, he is graciously invited in and most likely soon clutches a welcome glass of iced tea. He carries his wares on his circuit in a large case, which he opens and begins his well practiced presentation. 

Miss Georgie, of course, must buy something, as she knew would be the case, so Honest John’s persistence is rewarded with quenched thirst and the sale of a thimble.

Little Sarah is rewarded with a charming memory, complete with a suppressed giggle, that still carries a smile after almost a century has passed.

(An aside: My mom was a very mischievous child. Her older sister wanted to take a nice picture of just her mother, but my mom was determined to be in it too and kept sneaking in. No matter how many times she was chased away. She eventually achieved perfect timing, which resulted in my favorite picture of them together.)

This article is an old book and old movie lover’s dream. Names like Woolf, Dickens, Forster, and Bronte are scattered throughout, like beautiful, slow burning leaves flavoring autumn with their timeless scent. Their related books are the crispness in the air. Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre, Mrs. Ramsey, her family and their guests, Mr. Wilcox and his younger bride overshadowed by his late wife…these are the people of some of my favorite literary treasures. They all leave their footprints preserved in this article, along with the houses that serve, in their way, as characters as well. Some of the houses that inspired stories like Howards End, Rebecca, and Jane Eyre are described in a way that brings back memories of reading the novels and wanting to read them again. My favorite segment is about Talland House that inspired Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. There’s a black and white picture of the actual house that makes me wish I was in Cornwall, so I could photograph it myself and perhaps look to the lighthouse from the garden. Some of the article’s descriptions evoke imagery from the books or scenes from screen adaptations. Reading it is a mental tour through cherished places brought to life by authors with often surprising connections to their characters’ homes. 

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jul/29/pemberley-manderley-howards-end-real-building-fictional-houses?CMP=twt_gu

My mom died a year ago today. I’ve been trying to think of how to best mark this sad anniversary here. It’s tempting to devote this post to how wonderful she was. Remarkably. How much I miss her. Terribly. How there’s a hole in my life that will be with me forever. How I’ve managed to stumble and stagger my way back into my writing life, eventually writing every day for  almost three months to finish a brand new novella. How proud she’d be of me for that and for intending to live the best life I can in honor of her steadfast faith in my dreams and ambitions, and the unconditional love she gave me every day of my life.

So, in that brief paragraph, I gave in to the temptation. And now I’m going to tell a story that incorporates several she told me many times. Some of her favorite memories that show just how cool she was.

I’ve written about her older brother Earl here before. When she was a young woman, he would find her jobs in Memphis and take her there to live with his family while she worked, until the needs of her parents or just plain homesickness would pull her back to the family farm. Before that she would go for extended visits, so as they all grew up his children felt almost like siblings. 

She was especially close with her oldest nephew, Paige. Having grown up very near the airport (You can see the airport behind his back yard in the picture below), he loved planes. One might say he had flying in his blood. As soon as he was old enough, he took lessons and then took to the skies. 

Since one of her jobs was as a waitress at a little restaurant at the airport, my mom was very familiar with and comfortable around airplanes, especially as part of her job was loading meals into the galleys in preflight prep. Uncle Earl arranged for her to go up with his pilot friends on occasion, and she loved it. She leapt at every opportunity to leave the ground and soar over the Mississippi Delta.

Her favorite pilot was, of course, Paige. When she was living back at home, on occasion she would be awakened in the early morning by the roaring engine of a small plane coming in for a landing in the pasture behind the house. She would hurry to get dressed and join her parents in the rush outside to greet their visiting pilot. 

“Sarah! I have to go get refueled. Wanna come?” She was always eager to climb aboard and join him. They would fly away to the nearest town that had the fuel he needed, enjoying their time together in the early morning sky. She took great pleasure in his willingness to fly low and buzz the homes of her girlfriends. I always wondered if those girls were envious and/or a little in awe of their friend zooming over their heads, waving to them when they went outside to look up. I also wonder if it registered with them how brave and cool she was.

One particular flight must have tested her bravery, though when she spoke about it there was no trace of lingering fear. Just the thrill of adventure and faith in her pilot. As they neared their landing field that was literally a field, Paige took his attention briefly from the controls. “Sarah, I don’t want you to be scared, but I have to tell you there’s a problem with the plane. I’ve got to bring us down anyway. We’ll be okay. I promise.” She must have been scared, but she was also too courageous to fall apart as many people would. “I know we will!” And   they ended up safely back on the ground, just as she knew they would. My mom had an amazing capacity for rock solid faith in the people she loved during treacherous times. It was not only his tremendous piloting skills that brought them down safely that day, but that he also flew on the faith in him radiating from his passenger. I know, because I flew through every day of my life on the wings of that same unshakeable faith.

When I call his piloting skills tremendous, it’s not merely as a cousin who has always hero worshipped Paige, though we never met. He never, ever lost his love of flying, went on to become an Air Force jet fighter pilot, and was eventually awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was critically burned in 1956, when the flaming F-89D Scorpion he was piloting crashed into the same Mississippi River he’d flown near as a young man, though his final flight was over Minnesota. One of his two engines exploded. He died from his injuries the next day. There was nothing he could have done…but he did anyway. He stayed with his fighter to guide it away from a densely populated residential area. I grew up so very proud to have such a hero in my family. Some say that as we die we see our life flash before our eyes. If that’s true, among the memories of his wife and young son, parents, siblings, and extended family, there was his whole great flying life before him, like a cherished dream. Among the wings and clouds and blue skies, was the green grass of a pasture landing field and the echoing words “We’ll be okay. I promise.” “I know we will.”

(Photograph that ran with his obituary)

I honestly don’t know what exactly comes after death. But for right this moment I know what I want it to be for my mom and her beloved Paige. So I’m imagining them sitting together on the highest cloud, swinging their feet as I’m sure they did fishing with Grandaddy as children, then a smile, a nod, a whisper of wings, as they take flight together once again.

When she told Paige that she worried about the danger he was in as a fighter jet pilot, his answer told its own story of the kind of man he’d grown up to become.

“Don’t worry about me, Sarah. If I die flying, I’ll have died doing what I love to do.”