Category Archives: Nostalgia

The Odd Brick

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I stood in the living room of the history-packed house, feeling Jackie’s presence around me. It was the first time I’d been in the house without her. She died recently, leaving a trail of family and friends behind after almost eighty years of an adventurous life. Her husband Jerry stood nearby, his eyes full of loss, yet contradicting the slight smile across his face. Both of them possessed a confident air of optimism. They are the sort of people who convince you that you’ve recharged something essential in yourself after you’ve been around them.

On the coffee table near us, in front of Jackie’s favorite perch on the couch, was a big 1000-piece custom puzzle. I had it made for my friends in April of 2018. I worked for hours on the design, incorporating countless family photos of theirs into a patchwork of multi-directional and polychromatic designs, each chosen and placed to accentuate the pictures while also increasing the complexity of the puzzle. We animatedly passed a couple of minutes noting the pictures, comparing favorites, and laughing. On the bottom row of the puzzle was the strange picture of an even stranger man. I included it in the puzzle because I  thought his picture was an enigma and out of place. As it turns out, it was. No one knew who it was, or remembered that the picture was in the thousands of photos and albums shared with me to digitize. Now, the stranger remains frozen forever in the family puzzle, immortal, and sharing space with some amazing people. We all laughed about Jerry and Jackie thinking I put the picture there as a prank, a one-off kick in the pants for my friends.

“No, I promise I thought the man was someone you knew. He was, and still is, in one of the albums of photos  I scanned. I didn’t include him as a joke. Jackie undoubtedly still thought I was pranking her,” I told Jerry.

“Yes, we thought you were the odd brick, X.” Jerry paused. “When the brickwork and wall were built years ago out back, out of all the thousands of bricks used, the bricklayer used a single yellow brick toward the outer end. I don’t know if it’s true, but they said that the odd color brick used to be placed to break the monotony of the eyeline. Jackie and both were convinced you put that stranger in the puzzle to be the odd brick. You are the odd brick.”

I laughed, thinking that Jackie left the world thinking I designed such a complex and heartfelt puzzle for her, only to prank her with a single discordant note. Though it wasn’t true, I liked the idea. I had purposefully pulled her chain on several occasions. To be perfectly honest, I sometimes held back because Jackie was one of those people whose smile and warmth were contagious, yet simultaneously held the promise of a swift reckoning under the right circumstances.  I say that with fondness.

Tomorrow, the house will be overfilled with friends and family. Foregoing a funeral, Jackie instead requested a celebration of life among friends. I came over to share the slideshow I’d made for Jerry, one chronicling the envious life Jackie lived. I stayed longer than I should have, though, perched on another couch opposite Jackie’s favorite seat. I’m clumsy and ill-at-ease when I try to comfort people with words. I learned the hard way that each of us cringes and contains our own version of hell and that wide swaths of unpredictable time are often the only consoling force in the universe. In this case, I could sense that seeing pictures of a life well-lived and shared was a salve for the soul. We watched the entire 44-minute video. Surprisingly, I recalled many of the stories attached to some of the pictures. Jackie was meticulous in sharing with me the memories attached to the pictures.

One of the best photo projects I ever did spanned a few thousand pictures. I came to it accidentally and as a result of being volunteered to help with another project. It was the doorway that allowed me to get to know a couple of fascinating and endearing people. Because of the pictures and the stories that accompanied them, I got to live a little slice of their long and worthwhile lives. It was a privilege, a learning experience, and something I’ll always remember as an honor.

My life didn’t meaningfully intersect with theirs until they were both older and retired. Both had full lives and careers and yet I only knew them as a couple, both engaged and artfully overlapping their stories to my delighted ears. Jerry was a medical doctor in life. It was plainly evident that his best role was that of a husband to Jackie.

I look back on the swath of pictures I was trusted with and get to bear testimony to the extraordinary life Jackie trailed behind her.

It would be an exercise in bravado to ask for a better life.

And so, with the gentlest and most affectionate gaze, I peer backward through her timeline: a laugh, a smile, a masterfully-executed bit of snark, and a twinkle in her eyes.

To be able to view the long curve of her life by way of hundreds of pictures has all but demolished the sadness that would have accompanied the knowledge she’ll never again shake her head at me as I played the fool for her. I can’t imagine the hollow void in the hearts of those who were lucky enough to stand in her aura in her daily life. There were a few moments while making the slideshow that almost capsized me.

I reduced her life from thousands of pictures to 240 and could distill them no further. A life like Jackie’s deserves a herculean accounting. I gave the photos the reverence that they deserved.

And, as it turns out, I am not the odd brick.

Jackie was.

X

 

 

 

 

Only 8 Pictures

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I have only 8 authentic images of my grandpa Cook. About half are pictures of pictures, taken at opportune moments. I’m lucky to have any. Many people escape their childhoods with no pictures. Given the number of times my family moved, in conjunction with my mother’s proclivity to burn residences to the ground, it’s a miracle any pictures fell into my hands.

My life only overlapped with my grandpa’s life for ten years, seven months, and one day.

Every picture I have of grandpa is on Ancestry to view and keep for anyone who wants them. Evidently, a lot of people have. Likewise, almost every picture I have of my dad and mom is on there, too. I’ve never once shared pictures without someone finding value in them – even people I’ve never met, and especially people who discover they are related.

For many of the family members who’ve departed, I have hundreds of pictures online, so that they can be experienced easily, and probably preserved for several lifetimes. It might be overkill, but experience has taught me that someone will find real joy when they see the photos.

I routinely get a private message along the lines of “Holy cow! I’ve never seen such a complete variety before. Do you have others?” I politely write back, saying, “Sorry, I’ve put every image I have of him or her on here. There are others, locked away in books, in basements, or in dusty boxes – but I don’t have access to them.”

This was recently true after I uploaded hundreds of pictures to an aunt, uncle, and cousin who passed away in the last decade. The response was overwhelming. It was a bit of an effort to organize and upload them all, but I know that my pictures will, at times, be the only pictures of these people that will be passed on and survive.

At times, I get messages from people who have locked down their accounts so that all pictures are private and secretly unviewable. Sometimes, these same people ‘borrow’ mine and lock their copies away from everyone else. Shame. I try to remind myself that someone at least saw the pictures and found them valuable enough to swipe. For the same reason, I leave all my family discoveries open to those who are related. There’s no real point in forcing people to do the same work over and over.

I don’t understand the inclination to put a picture in a box, closet, or hidden place. They are no more accessible than those who ‘borrow’ mine and lock them away digitally. They might as well be on the moon.

Countless times, people have reached out to me to tell me their families assumed no pictures existed of their loved ones. More than once, someone has told me that they’d never seen a picture of their family until they found my pictures. I can’t imagine that bittersweet moment. I work to ensure that I’m not part of the problem.

I don’t own a picture that I don’t have digitized, shared, and available for everyone to enjoy. Not only so that they can never be truly lost forever when calamity strikes, but so that they can be shared, even with unknown future generations, as they look back in the past.

A picture in a box, album, or closet is lost forever.

You just don’t know it.

Top Gun, Otis Redding, And a Coincidence

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In the movie Top Gun, when Maverick (Tom Cruise) goes to Charlie’s House, most people remember the iconic song “Take My Breath Away.” For me, though, the song that stole the moment was Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ On the Dock of The Bay.” Toto originally was supposed to do the “Danger Zone” song, as well as another that would have been the song used instead of “Take My Breath Away.” Judas Priest was going to do a song for the soundtrack too but thought the movie would flop, as did many critics. Tom Cruise declined to do the movie repeatedly.

Most people with harsh criticisms of the movie tended to knock “the talking scenes” such as the one following the love scene at Charlie’s beach house. We all endured the testosterone-laden antics of our male friends in the late 80s as a result of this movie. For most of us who survived the 80s, each of us has at least one guilty pleasure in a song from the movie. I don’t think any of us miss the aviator sunglasses that seemed to be everywhere. None of us fully escaped the energy of Kenny Loggins as he sang “Danger Zone,” the fourth or fifth choice to sing the song.

What most people don’t consider is the unintentional coincidence of Otis’ biggest hit being in the scenes at the beach house. Maverick was about to go on the biggest mission of his life in one of the most modern airplanes in history, where death followed at every high-G spin.

Otis Redding recorded “Sittin’ On the Dock of The Bay” two times in 1967, with the second time being shortly before he died in December. The song was never officially finished. Otis is heard whistling in the song because he forgot the riffs he intended to fill in and started whistling to preserve the session. After Otis died, the beach sounds were added to this famous song by Steve Cropper, who helped Otis co-write the song.

I forgot to mention: Otis died in a plane crash.

 

A Snapshot of Memory

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*Guest Post

In this day of phones, digital cameras & easy(easier) photography the world is full of portraits & life-changing memories artfully posed, beautiful for sure yet simpler to catch. Engagements, births, holidays, moments in time long ago not as spontaneous if caught on film.

Back in my childhood photos of the ilk were less common unless you sat in a photographer’s studio- not as accessible to the working folk. You snapped a pic, waiting for the roll of film to be finished, brought it in to be developed, and usually, you got an envelope full of crossed eyes, blurry shots, laughable seconds. Few and far between were photos remarkable.

While we were not the kind to sit in a studio for a portrait, have on the walls framed photos of our time vacationing or spending a holiday, this one moment in time my father took of me is as artfully placed to be one.

Summer, on my front porch, resplendent in my bathing suit ready for running through the sprinklers. That, as I recall, was quite a looked forward to part of any sun-shiny moment then. Playing with my Rubik’s Cube- must’ve been 1980 or so.

I don’t remember much of this day, but I do remember (hindsight, mind you- as a kid I couldn’t register this) my dad got this sort of inspired look on his face and asked me to sit on the steps, against the column of the porch, and try to solve it. So I did. And he took this picture.

No digital cameras, no immediate pics to edit. Just a simple photograph on a camera with film he had to wait to develop to see if it turned out.

I think of this as my “portrait” to this day. It was a good moment. I’m thankful for that second in time captured. I think it still resembles me, captures the person I am inside. Sometimes the spontaneous becomes immutable…

 

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