Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Working with Grandaddy, both of them.

I can't say that I remember being a Daddy's girl. My mother assured me that when I was a very small girl I was, but I don't recall it. After the separation and divorce, I didn't see my father again until I was an adult in college. I did have a relationship with my grandfather, though; in my estimation, when I was small, he was a big, giant teddy bear who could do and build anything. There was a period of time after the divorce when my mother wouldn't let me see that side of the family and that loss of connection was at least as devastating as the destruction of my nuclear family.

For about 6 years, if I got to see my Grandparents at all, it was a twice a year visitation kind of situation. The day I turned 18, I biked the three miles (isn't that a travesty? Only three miles!) in the Charleston June heat to my grandparents house. By the end of that summer, they were more than happy to drive me all the way to Virginia to my college dorm, to be involved with helping me set up a life. I never slept another night in my mother's home. It was a bumpy road, though, getting to know them again. I'd suffered things they didn't understand and they wanted to rewrite history, I think, or wave a wand and make our pain go away. They struggled through my angry years. I have always been a writer, and they didn't like some of the newspaper columns I sent home from college. Healing can be a nasty business.

I have written before about what my Grandparents mean to me. If I hadn't had P-daddy in my life when my Grandfather passed, I don't know what his death would have done to me. I had fully invested my identity at that point as their granddaughter. In the years since, I have gotten closer with my father and to my regret, lost all contact with my mother. It's complicated, as all families seem to be, and of course it informs how I parent my own children.

After my Grandfather passed, my Grandmother gave me all their slides and the projector. My Grandfather loved to take pictures, and for a period of time in my father's early childhood, he preferred slides. A stroke of genius, I say. Slides hold their color so perfectly. As I scan the slides, I get to see the pictures in all their integrity. One by one, I get to see these images surface on my computer screen as they were when he shot them. It's proving to be an emotional experience. I think a lot like my Grandaddy, and as I work through these slides, I find him instructing me even now; an x marks the bottom left of the image, no matter what the Kodak label says. Dates, places, categories, all there for me to decipher in a way that may make sense only to our family. That connection again, that tie to the larger web of family. It resonates within me. It aches. I am scanning these over the course of this week to preserve and deliver these images for my family-- my Grandmother, my father, my cousins. What a Christmas gift, to have family pictures from 5 decades ago resurface now, the few prints of which have been long lost.

And finally, another shocking discovery. My Grandaddy was born in Egypt, Georgia and raised in Savannah. It was no surprise to see a box marked "Ephesus," as I had already encountered "Sarasota." Assuming I would see family pictures at a farm or a picnic in the rural South, I was surprised to see Ephesus. As in Turkey. As in The Cathedral of St John and The Great Theater. My Grandaddy had never been to Europe. These were slides taken by my then-18-year-old father. My Daddy had taken these.

Only in recent years has he talked to me about his time in the service. He didn't enjoy his time as a Viet Nam war serviceman, but what little he has told me centered around his tours in Europe, and the pleasure he took in actually walking the ancient streets. I was slightly dizzy as I examined the shots. I know my father lost every photograph he had living on sailboats after the divorce. I know he doesn't have these. But we do, now. He will get them back. And my children will get to see their Grandaddy's history unfold before them while I am watching mine.

This is a good work, and I am so grateful for the chance to do it.


  1. When I read about the slides of photos your Daddy had taken, I got chills. How fortunate that you have pictures that he has lost, and that you can restore them to him. And that your kids have a little piece of his past.

    It is good work! May it prosper.

  2. I get it. ;) I am so glad that you have gotten this wonderful gift. It gives me hope to see that the sweet outweighs the bitter.