Bad Photography and Good Memories

Fira, Santorini

It poured rain today, so I finally embarked on a chore I’ve been avoiding–going through old photos.  I have five or six file boxes full of envelopes with prints and film in them, going back for several pre-digital years.  One of my friends advised me to winnow them down to just the ones I care about and pitch the rest, which makes the task of scanning the remaining photos more manageable.

I only made it through one box so far, which seemed to cover pieces of 1997 through 2000.  My trip to Australia and New Zealand in 1998 was not in there, but every Christmas was.  Glancing through the photos made it clear that I was a terrible photographer in those days.  I took a million pictures of statues, castles, museums, and monuments.  The only ones I recognize now are the David in Florence and the radio/TV tower in Berlin.  I took a great one of my late partner Ron in which it looks like the tower is coming out the top of his head.

In the bad old days you had to take rolls and rolls of film to get a few usable shots, and that was just the norm.  It didn’t help that it took me years to learn not to have the sun behind your subject (they will be dark) and a little bit about composition (frame the shot, or make sure your subject of interest is to one side, forming a kind of triangle).  There are so many shots of people that I don’t remember, or places where I spent too much time taking pictures and not enough being there, taking in the moment.

I swear I have some better ones in the other boxes (at least, I hope I do!).  But even some of the bad ones made me remember some times I hadn’t thought about in a while, like when all of us sisters surprised Juanita on her 60th birthday.  Her husband Larry flew us all in from around the country so we could go out for dinner and a limo ride through Washington D.C. at night.   Then there was the ’70s party at a company sales meeting.  Hmm, maybe some of those photos would be good for blackmail (just kidding).  It’s interesting to watch my hair, weight, and clothing change.  Whoever came up with pleated jeans as a fashion statement should be shot.

The photo above was taken in Fira on Santorini sometime in the ’90s.  The donkeys are carrying passengers and goods up from the harbor where the cruise ships dock.  It’s a pretty good picture.  I think Ron must have taken this one.


The Bowers Girls

Marvel, Mother, me, Sherrie, Juanita, Glenda, niece Judy, baby Weston

All children have a fantasy that they don’t belong to their family of birth.  I actually was a Cherokee princess, kidnapped from my tribe, or sometimes the sad orphan of a rich, privileged family that was tragically wiped out by war or disease.  Maybe it’s a function of reading The Secret Garden or A Little Princess, or any of myriad children’s books that glamorize the feeling of strangeness or not-belonging so many of us have.  Eight Cousins was another, in which the little orphan girl is taken in by a bachelor uncle and discovers she has eight boy cousins, all of whom come to adore her, of course.

My fantasy was compounded by not actually looking much like my sisters and brother.  My eyes are a weird light hazel, and my hair had auburn tinges in it.  However, if you took my parents’ faces and gave me the top of Mother’s, and Daddy’s from the cheekbones down, you got my face.  Apparently my coloring came from my grandfather, and my lack of height from both grandmothers.  Amazing how you can mix and match the genetic pieces!

I never thought there was much resemblance among us sisters or cousins until I looked at this photo, years after it was taken at my nephew’s wedding.  At first glance, we don’t look alike.  We’re tall, short, square, willowy, young, older.  My cousin Marvel particularly does not resemble the rest of the family.  Then I noticed our legs.  We all have calves and ankles that are shaped the same.  So it’s from Mother’s side of the family–Bowers legs.

Mother would say they are bad legs, because some of us tend to painful knees and arthritis.  But I think that curve of calf to ankle is kind of nice.  Now I have to hunt for photos of the younger generations and see if the shape has been passed on.  I hope that piece of the genetic code has legs!

Twenty-seven Cousins and One Aunt

Oldest Cousin With Her Daughter and Grandson

I made a fast trip to my home town in Tennessee this weekend because my sisters were all driving there for the cousins’ lunch.  Usually my sister Sherrie is the only one who can go, because she lives less than an hour away.  For the rest of us, it’s a lengthy drive or, in my case, a two-hour flight.  But we all agreed to get together this time and go to the lunch.

The Jones family used to have big reunions in the summertime.  We’d cook out and picnic in the local park.  I remember my grandfather, Pap, sitting in a lawn chair under a huge shade tree, his back poker-straight.  He had rather cold blue eyes and a beak of a nose.  Mammy, my grandmother, had passed away by the time I remember the reunions. His ten children would be there with their spouses and children, so it was quite a crowd.  My cousin Mary Ann organized reunions later, after Pap died.  It got harder and harder to gather the group as some moved away, and others died.  Then Mary Ann passed away suddenly from a medical condition and the reunions stopped.

A few years ago the last of Pap’s children started meeting at a restaurant for lunch occasionally along with some of their nieces and nephews, i.e., the cousins.  The lunch on Saturday was one of the biggest ever.  Aunt Agnes was there, the youngest of Pap’s children–she’s 86.  And there were 27 cousins, ranging in age from Lurleen, who is 87(oldest daughter of Pap’s oldest son), to four of Pap’s great-great-grandchildren, three of whom were less than 10 years old. 

It was pretty overwhelming, especially when I realized our teenaged waitress was a cousin, too (one of the great-great-grandchildren), and did not remember her great-grandfather, who was one of my dad’s brothers.  Whew!  And I’m not that old!  I guess that’s what happens when you have a large family spread over 20 years, and some of them have large families spread over 20 years, like my parents did.   

The world is different now.  We are scattered far and wide, and many of us don’t know the other cousins.  One of my nephews met a cousin when he and his wife took their first child to the pediatrician.  They had the traditional Southern “where are you from?  where is your family from?” conversation.  Turns out they were both Pap’s great-grandchildren and had never known each other.   Now they are friends.

Here’s a short video of everyone at the lunch!

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