Photography of the Mind and Moment
Have you ever experienced a time so good, a moment so perfect that you wanted to preserve it forever?
I have many of these moments as I bet many of you do as well.
The subject matter and inspiration varied, but at some point during one of these times, my spirit poked me to stop, step back, and take a mental picture, to freeze frame the moment and sear it into my personal history.
Spring weekend mornings played on the baseball field, early fall evenings chasing lightning bugs, Sunday mornings building a foundation of faith followed by cookies and lemonade on the lawn of the church five houses down from our home, the reasons why escaped me at times. Yet, I remember at a young age, when this internal prompt hit, saying to myself, “This is what happiness means” or “I don’t need anything else but this.”
A Still Life was born.
Under the Sun
Our parents divorced when I was 7. A few years later, a large Irish-Catholic family welcomed us into their homes and accepted us as their own when our mother married our stepdad.
Every summer, the family packed a caravan of cars, trekked a few hours south to Isle of Palms, S.C. and spent a week together at the beach.
The storm-weathered yellow two story with a second level dark red deck and a screen porch on Ocean Boulevard was large but aged. What the house lacked in creature comforts, and we were not creatures who required much, it made up for in proximity as it stared directly at pristine white sand dunes and sea oats that formed a natural barrier to the beach and rolling waters beyond.
Life filled the house at all hours, day and night. Before dawn, the men would grab fishing and crabbing gear and strike out on an adventure. Until I was old enough to be numbered as one of them, I would wake a few hours later to bacon sizzling and popping, eggs scrambling, and toast jumping. Like the Atlantic just a short walk across a sandy blacktop due east, breakfast came in waves to feed 17.
After breakfast, we jumped into our swimsuits and spent days playing football and finding sand dollars on the sea floor, body surfing and surf fishing, soaking in the sun, young and tan.
Often, my brother and I walked down to the pavilion with our four cousins, all girls, who were about the same age as us. They were pretty, sweet and refined. All the girls attended Catholic schools. My brother and I were not Catholic and even less refined. Yet, we enjoyed all being together and became friends as well as family. We played skee ball and video games at the pavilion and maybe grabbed a Coke and a sandwich before barefooting it back to the beach a couple of hours later.
A Teller of Tales
After dinner, we’d play cards or listen to the family patriarch tell stories. Known as Pop, I addressed him as Mr. G and afforded him the highest honor and deepest respect from the moment we met until I said goodbye nearly 20 years later as he breathed his last.
Tall, slender and in his early 70’s by the time we popped into his life, Mr. G was an affable, gregarious man who loved conversation. In his younger days, Mr. G had been a star pitcher in the Texas League before settling down with his wife and family. Even at his late age, he could still throw a mean curve.
Mr. G’s stories mesmerized me and I could listen for hours without tiring. While the whole family would easily spend the night sharing tales and laughs, I’ve never met a storyteller as natural and engaging as Mr. G. I think that’s where I first fell in love with the craft.
When night fell, bodies scattered everywhere. Sleepy shouts of “hey, ouch!” followed clumsy footsteps when navigating to the piece of couch, chair or floor you called bed. Once settled, you listened alternatively to the sea calling and the murmur of the adults as they talked late into the night.
One Family, Two Curses
On occasion, we’d wake to peals of laughter when my crazy Uncle H, a short balding man sporting black horned-rims and a thick and snickery laugh, belly surfed the stairs, and on others shouts of anger and ssshhhhhs about matters known only to them.
Alcohol fueled both the fun and fights, in part. Uncle JG, my stepdad’s brother, would decades later call it, “one of the family diseases” and he was right.
Two curses plagued this tight-knit group. After battling alcoholism both my stepdad and his brother JG would enjoy decades of sobriety and service with their families intact; however, not everyone was as lucky. My uncle JE’s family was the first casualty before he forfeited his life to drinking but that was long after cancer took Uncle JG, his younger brother and my stepdad, their sister before, and their mother much earlier.
One family, two curses. Each one fought a courageous personal battle and I miss them all.
Occasionally as we sat on the deck enjoying lunch, an afternoon storm formed on the horizon. We watched as the Carolina sky wispy with clouds transformed into a deep blue and then black as the storm’s tail whipped the Atlantic.
As the clouds roiled toward us, we awed at the beauty and power. The storm’s colors played games with us. We felt immersed in the sea. We peered through the ocean waters to a wavy light above us and nothing but darkness below – all of which was a mirage much to our delight.
The cool summer showers hit us and it was a welcomed relief. Big drops soothed our skin. Steam floated from the blacktop as the rains cooled Ocean Boulevard.
A flash of lightning burst in the distance spotlighting the deep, purple waters.
If the storm was fast-moving and the lighting strikes continued,
we’d retreat to couches and chairs in the large screen porch to watch the rest of the light show until the storm passed.
In summer, the storms never lasted long. They were beautiful, electric fun.
In the decades of summers since, all the kids have grown and have families of their own. Most of them have stayed within a couple of hours of each other – except for me.
The grown have largely gone.
The yellow house on Ocean Boulevard no longer stands nor do the white sand dunes, tall sea oats or the view from the deck across the road. All have fallen at the hand of time and in the name of progress. All of these have been replaced by larger, newer homes on both sides of the blacktop.
Preserving these memories and countless others, the people and the places as they were, unencumbered by the sameness of daily interaction has been an unexpected gift resulting from moving a thousand miles away at 18. Honoring these moments is probably why I’ve never returned to plant roots in the soil and sand of my youth. Yet, I call it home still.
Many summers drew many families to this shore. Storms blew in and by. Bronze youth radiated in the golden sun. Barefooted innocence walked down the sandy blacktop searching for a little fun and refreshment.
In its randomness, it’s all quite the same, yet to each, specific and unique.
Still Lifes are the treasured stories of our time here when, for a moment and just, all the world was right.
I could not ask for more.