My maternal grandparents bought me a Kodak Instamatic for my tenth birthday. I don’t know how they knew I would love taking photos; perhaps my grandfather let me snap frames with his camera. My father certainly didn’t let me touch his precious equipment; he never trusted me with any of his Things.
My grandfather died shortly after he gave me that gift, at the age of 52 (I think), from a fatal heart attack.
I don’t have many fond memories from my childhood; I don’t remember either of my parents ever talking to me or listening to me talk; I recall very little actual connection with them at all. But I have vivid memories of sitting on Papa’s lap; him peeling apples with a little switchblade he kept in his pocket while he made up funny stories.
I remember his easy chair; a large blue leather recliner that he’d tip waaaaay back in and frighten me . . . but only just enough for the effect. I felt safe and loved, nestled in his enormous lap, listening to his soothing voice, accompanied by the deep rumblings of train car wheels rolling along the tracks that ran behind their tiny house.
Papa’s love was unconditional. He was a simple, honest, hardworking man, who had just enough money to own a small house in the Bay Area. He was born in Tower, Minnesota, into a coal-mining family. Papa traded in his hard-hat for a rig, and he spent many days and nights away from home, delivering produce and other goods from city to city. He seemed happy and contented with his life. He was always smiling and joking and everybody loved him.
His death was a blow to my grandmother. She was only 50 years old when the love of her life left so suddenly, and she never found interest in anything afterward, except for the occasional visits from her grandchildren. I used to skip high school classes and bring girlfriends over to visit her. We would find her sitting there alone, in her large, one-bedroom apartment in Bellevue, WA where my parents moved her to “be closer to us,” although she was too far away to visit on her own since she didn’t drive. She didn’t know anybody, and she had no way to meet people like herself. She spent holidays with us, and took care of my little sisters when my mother went to work.
I got Nani to tell me stories about herself and her life with Papa, and she was always willing to oblige. She would light up, her mind searching back to happier times. I could make her laugh until she cried, and her laughter would make me laugh . . . those shared moments are precious to me now that I am putting together a revised mental scrapbook.
I used that little Kodak camera for many years, whenever I could afford the film and flashcubes and developing costs; every frame was precious back in those days, and I’m afraid that my limited access to those things gave me very little real practice.
I am revisiting my 1970-1972 images, which, from my much more educated eye, are actually quite amazing for a 10-12 year old girl. Too bad Papa didn’t stick around to encourage me, or help me update my equipment when I grew out of it, because my father was certainly too busy to notice that I was alive.
I miss you and love you, Papa and Nani, and I will talk with you again soon.