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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Photographs and Memories

Like everyone else in this modern age, my family has always kept a photographic record of it's major (and many, many minor) important events. These things are always kept in prominent view within the various family households as part of our living tradition; recording births, celebrations, graduations, and the like. In my life, one family photo stands out more than any other. It's an obviously posed studio shot that shows 5 people. In the back, standing, are two very stately-looking women, both wearing dresses of tiny white polka-dots on black cloth; the one on the left obviously the mother of the one on the right. Seated in a chair in front of them is a smiling, somewhat youthful-looking woman with a large smile, again, wearing the same style dress. Kneeling in front is a 20ish man with a very proud smile and flashing eyes, dressed in a late-1950s style suit; hair close-cropped and dapper. On the seated woman's lap is a child of about 2. He's wearing a sailor-suit, complete with hat, his eyes agog and his mouth, with just a few teeth, wide open in obvious child-glee. There is no caption - our family didn't need one. I will provide it here, however, because you people don't know who's who.

Of the standing women, the one on the left is Great-great grandma Simonson, to the right her daughter, Great grandma Van Vickle. The seated woman is Grandma Olson, and the handsome young man is my father. I think you can guess who the puppy is. Five generations!! What a celebration of life.

I write this because one of those photographed is dying. I was just informed of this today. Grandma Olson has been in 'the home' for a few years now and has had Alzheimer's disease pretty bad. The last time I saw her, at Grandpa Olson's funeral, she did not even know who I was. According to what I heard, she hasn't taken sustenance for over a week - the family pretty much expects the worst.

I remember when she and Grandpa took me to the Duluth zoo - right down to how bratty I was at the time and my somewhat-obtuse fascination with a dead duck. I remember how her house was full of useless knick-knacks, all carefully arranged for visual effect. I remember her taking me with her to her part-time job of cleaning the bank in Babbitt. All of these things happened before I was five years old - my memories of her are some of my oldest and sweetest. You see, my friends, I was her first grandchild; and she doted.

She was ever the sunshine lady, to me.

Humans are unique creatures. Like all the other animals, we live and then we die. Unlike the others, however, we know about it. My sister, at a previous funeral, once blurted out (in obvious pain), that she hated death. I'm not like that - I realize that the cycle of life is what it is. That doesn't mean that I like people's passing, I just don't hate what I can't change. When people that are close to me die, I miss them - and that hurts. The pain can be strong, but, eventually, it gets replaced by the memories that they left - thier love, thier time spent with me, and the events we shared together. In essence, I replace the grief with a celebration of the memories - for those memories tie us together, even across the gulf of death, and make me a stronger person.

We are all like this, I think.