The Matriarch

A Portrait of My Grandmother

Every mealtime prayer ended with her singing ♫Amen♫ in her operatic style.

She is my father’s mother,
my grandmother,
but she’s always been “Lola” to me.

Lola has never lived close by, except for perhaps during a single year of my life, when I was about 2 years old.  We got to see her once a year, at best, and it was always a blessing.  A vacation at Lola and Grandpapa’s home meant swimming all day, chocolate milkshakes, and stories at bedtime that she would invent on the spot.

Her voice is love and joy and music.

She was a school teacher, a missionary, and a pastor’s wife.

We haven’t spent much time together over the years, but the times we’ve been together have been exceedingly precious to me.

In recent years her health has deteriorated.  Not knowing how much time she has left on this earth, I made the trip from California to Arkansas to visit her with the goal of making a single portrait of my beloved Lola before the opportunity is lost.

Her voice is still a beautiful sound, though she rarely speaks.

She doesn’t remember me, but she’s always glad to see me.  She smiles and nods when I ask her if she can tell me stories of when my father was a boy, but the stories are never told.  She just smiles her beautiful smile at me and then looks around in silence.  I can make her laugh, but I’ll never have another conversation with her, never hear another story.

But, now, after years of being apart, I have new memories of holding her hand,
of seeing her smile,
of hearing her laugh,
of kissing her cheek,
and I have a portrait of her smiling face to keep.

I knew there wouldn’t be opportunity to set up a session, to try different outfits, backgrounds, or poses.
Somewhere in the four days I was visiting, there was a perfect moment, where everything came together and my prayer for a single portrait was answered.
A second later, she was led into the kitchen, probably to take another pill or have her sugar level checked.

This is why I make photographs:
to protect memories,
to be able to show others the way I see someone,
the way someone makes me feel.

How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
How do you keep a wave upon the sand?
How do you hold onto precious moments and memories that slip away so quickly?

There are many ways, I suppose…
for me, it’s photography.