DECLARATIONS: THE HIDDEN STORIES OF PRINTED PHOTOS (GMA LIBBIS)

At the time of writing this, it's been several months since I considered this series wrapped up.  I am currently working on some future projects and had taken my annual break during the summer when I leave everything behind, let my creative mind reset, and bring my camera along only for 'emergencies' - like this one. 

It's an interesting time for me, as both my husband and I have sets of relatives downsizing and passing along family keepsakes. Of course, many of these include photographs, exposing us to roots we didn't know we had and stories that haven't been told for years.

While visiting my in laws this past summer, I was surrounded by photos and family, trying to piece together the best I could who was who and how I may have been told about them in previous conversations. 

On the table, I saw two portraits, one of a beautiful young woman and another of a handsome sailor, images taken well before this couple was known as 'Grandma Libbis' and 'Grandpa Pete'. Not only did the photos catch my eye but the handwriting on our young grandmother's photo, clearly to a gentleman she had fallen for - presumably, the man we know as Grandpa.

Grandma Libbis telling stories of her many suitors and how she finally met 'The One'.

Grandma Libbis telling stories of her many suitors and how she finally met 'The One'.

I had heard many stories through the years of the love they had for one another and what a strong couple they were (unfortunately, I had never met Grandpa Pete but I am assured I would have been equally in love with him). I realized I had never really heard how they had met, so I started asking questions.

'I had a sweetheart (Marley) from the time I was 10 until about 15.  He was  went away to Japan and that's when I met my husband. 

I fell in love with him the moment I saw him. He came in Momma's grocery store when I was back in the kitchen, because we was making fudge. Momma came came back in there and said, 'You've got to come in here and see this guy.' I told her, 'Momma, I've got three boyfriends already, I don't need another one.' So, anyway, when I went out there and saw him - he was something else. When would go out on a date, Mildred was 3 years younger than me, she would date his first cousin because Momma wouldn't let me go off Pete by myself so Mildred would come, too. What was so funny was when Marley came back from Japan me and Pete had gotten married. We had only told our house and the guests that were living with Momma and Daddy for awhile. Well, every time we'd go up there, Marley would be there with Mildred. Pete would say, 'Well, the only reason he's dating her is he wants you to be jealous.' laughs

Grandma Libbis holds her signed portrait and an image of her loved husband. 

Grandma Libbis holds her signed portrait and an image of her loved husband. 

'Did you actually send this to him? You sent this print to him, you had signed it, and you got it back?!'

tries to read

'It says 'I'll love you always, Elizabeth.'

Pauses. 

'I think I sent that to Marley.'

whole room laughs

'I never went without a boyfriend'

DECLARATIONS: THE HIDDEN STORIES OF PRINTED PHOTOS (MS. WRIGHT)

Mr. Ernie’s room is quiet, still, and calm. Though I haven’t had the opportunity to meet Mr. Ernie before now, at the time we meet, his demeanor is the same.

Memories are displayed for him to see across the room but the space directly around him is minimal – with the exception of a single framed photo looking over him.

“Mr. Ernie, this photo must be very important to be so close to you and displayed. Is this your wife?”

He nods.

“What is it that you remember when you look at this photo?”

“It was a very happy marriage.

I was a firefighter. It was a great job, the excitement. [My wife was a] stay at home wife. We had a very good life together and we just got along good together. Our kids are great – four children. She did a beautiful job with that.

Mr. Ernie, resting with a photo of his wife. 

Mr. Ernie, resting with a photo of his wife. 

We went to Ocean City every year. What I loved most about my wife is that she put up with me – I was rough, I’ll tell ya. [laughs] We got along well together. It doesn’t seem like that long ago. She’s passed away.”

One of the things that will always amaze me: How much life can be held in a single ‘pretty picture’ and the wealth of memories that can come from them. 

Mr. Ernie's display of family memories and recent cards.

Mr. Ernie's display of family memories and recent cards.

 

DECLARATIONS: THE HIDDEN STORIES OF PRINTED PHOTOS (MS. NINA)

When Ms. Nina speaks, you listen. The kindness in her eyes combined with the matter-of-fact tone she uses when she speaks gives her an air of comfort and confidence – as though she’d be the first one to give you a hug when you walk through the door and then set you straight for however long it took until she was sure she had set you straight (for the record, I absolutely adore women who possess this unique quality).

Sitting down with Ms. Nina, she let me know quickly of her plans to stay at the facility: ‘I won’t be here long. I’m not staying. Just getting my hips fixed and then I’ll be home.’

After a brief discussion on the operations of the facility (what was working and what needed to be fixed), I asked her about some of the photos on her wall. She may not have plans to stay long but the great care she took to display several professional, well-framed images was impressive.

“That’s Jason and Jasmine, they’re twins. They’re 14 years old and now Jason is six foot (Jaz is a normal size). Those are my Grands. When Jason was born, the Doctors said, ‘Here (makes a gesture holding out her arms)’. So that’s my little boy! Jaz was 3 lbs., so she had to go into the NICU. When I looked and saw her…(hushed) I couldn’t hold her, I couldn’t touch her. She was so small, had pins and needles all over her.

Ms. Nina, resident of Crofton Care and Rehabilitation Center,  with her Grandchildren. 

Ms. Nina, resident of Crofton Care and Rehabilitation Center,  with her Grandchildren. 

"She had reflux very, very bad and I didn’t know what to do with her. We would hold her, burp her, put her in the swing…and she finally outgrew it. She always went hand to hand but I always held on to Jason. I have 3 boys and – (eyes wide and bright) it’s boys! To this day he still listens to me.

"I talk to them every day, I call at 10 to 4 and make sure they’re in the house. ‘Get something to eat and do your homework. Until someone comes home, stay in the house.’ I know it’s repetitious. They’re on the honor roll. I keep pushing them like a shovel.”

Like Ms. Nina, her beautifully displayed photos are well dressed and properly displayed. There’s a formality about them that could make it easy for outsiders to simply take a quick, appreciative glance at them and not dig a little deeper to find out the gem that’s hidden beneath. But Ms. Nina knows and if you stick around a little longer, she's likely to treat you to more than just a pretty smile. 

DECLARATIONS: THE HIDDEN STORIES OF PRINTED PHOTOS (GMA ROLES)

Sitting on 80 acres of land previous owned by Indian tribes, around the large wood table built by my great-great relatives, my childhood Saturday nights often took place in my grandmothers 60 year old home, filled with adults playing Eucre and kids watching Hee-Haw. In the summer time, we would be left to play unsupervised in the fields & creek, and in the winter I have a distinct memory of us discovering that when we turned on the ceiling vent in the bathroom, snow would start blowing down on us.  We were an extended family of great laughter and little wealth.

As a young married couple, my parents had us move quite a bit in effort (and success) of building and providing a good life for us but in the center of it all stood the stability of my grandmother’s home. From it came stories of my father as a baby climbing out to the barn and up the rafters; my aunt being Homecoming queen; marriages starting and ending; babies being born. And in the middle of it all, my grandmother’s high school senior portrait would hang, smiling down on all of us.

Maryland Photographer, Teresa Robertson, with her grandmother's HIgh School Senior Portrait. 

Maryland Photographer, Teresa Robertson, with her grandmother's HIgh School Senior Portrait. 

 

I loved to study this portrait of a young woman that, at the time, had such a full life waiting for her. As a young girl, it intrigued me to see how different she looked back then – yet have the same kindness & determination in her eyes. To think, when she had the portrait taken, none of us were even born yet! To have this reminder of my grandmother at a time when we didn’t know her, to see the same beautiful smile she would give us when we came to her home, was almost a sweet declaration to me, saying, “So much came before you, to guide you and shape you. I was a young girl like you, too”. This simple, hand painted portrait let my mind wonder so often to how much more we were connected to one anther, despite the years.

My grandmother’s portrait now hangs in my own living room now. I still think about what she was like at my age, if I received any of her personality traits, and if I will pass them to my own children.  I love the opportunity to share small snippets of stories with people who ask, “Who is that a portrait of?” and smile, knowing that she would be proud to know the woman I am today, the women I am raising, and would more than likely shrug off the suggestion that she had anything to do with it – let alone her high school senior portrait be a token of security, roots, and inspiration to generations ahead.

DECLARATIONS: THE HIDDEN STORIES OF PRINTED PHOTOS (MS. MABLE)

It should be clear by now that I love hearing stories of people's past and the small details that make such a big difference in life. I know not everyone has the same passion for the past but I'm always a little curious when I ask people to tell me about something years ago and they reply with, 'Nothing special'. 

There are so many 'nothing special' things that we've dismissed in our culture over the years that are so important today, some even lost arts. I love hearing about the 'little things' because they would be considered such big acts of strength, love, or talent today.

Ms. Mable, resident of Crofton Care and Rehabilitation Center, and her dog 'Woofie'.

Ms. Mable, resident of Crofton Care and Rehabilitation Center, and her dog 'Woofie'.

Ms. Mable treated me to a bit of the day to day she had in her childhood. Even with few details, I can imagine such a different life and upbringing she must have had, with the same common goals that I try to raise my own children with.

"I have 2 boys and 5 girls. I grew up in Atlanta, GA near a farm. My grandmother taught me how to cook and sew – she was a wonderful grandmother, she taught me everything, I loved her very much. My father, he would put me on his knee and had a pipe, Captain Black. Smelled real good. I loved that, those days, good memories. I have a picture of me and a black and white bear with a tea pot. I used to put sand in it and pretend I was cooking.

When I met my husband, I worked at a 5 and dime place. He kept coming in but he didn’t have the courage to ask me out. So one day he asked me out and he took me to a restaurant. Now, this man had on a sweater - he put his pipe [too close to it] and I had to smack it – it started smoking! Laughs One of my favorite memories is my husband on our wedding day."

 

DECLARATIONS: THE HIDDEN STORIES OF PRINTED PHOTOS (MS. EDNA)

Ms. Edna is feisty - which, trust me, I love. I've had the opportunity to visit her several times since we last met and she always gets me laughing with her unapologetic opinions and emotion. I am so glad to have seen this side of her often since on our first day, she was feeling a little 'under the weather'. 

Ms. Edna was just entering her room the first time we met; I introduced myself and tried my best to see if she was up for talking. I always want my conversations with people to be comfortable and I understand not necessarily feeling up to an interview from someone I've never met. 

Megan, the Activities Director and wonderful person aiding me in this project, helped start the conversation as she helped guide Ms. Edna towards the photographs in her room.  

Why do you have pictures in your room do you think?

[confused] “Do I? I don’t think I do.”

Miss Edna, look at these – see your photos? Why do you think you keep these photos?

“Is this my room?”

This is your room.

“I don’t know how long they’ve been there.”

Miss Edna suddenly spots a photo of her husband. You see her eyes brighten up and she sits up  straighter. She finally recognizes something familiar to her.

Ms. Edna, resident of Crofton Care and Rehabilitation Center, with photos of her husband. 

Ms. Edna, resident of Crofton Care and Rehabilitation Center, with photos of her husband. 

"…Because that’s our wedding day. Can’t you see? That’s my husband."

You have a lot of pictures of your husband.

“Because we loved each other!”

DECLARATIONS: THE HIDDEN STORIES OF PRINTED PHOTOS (MS. MADELINE)

As much as I'd like to say each day and conversation I had with people featured in this series were filled with joy and fond memories, I would be telling the truth if there wasn't a little heartache here and there. Thankfully, none that couldn't be chalked up to a bit of a down day, which we all have from time to time. However, those moments simply amplified the love that was held for the memories and people I had the honor of 'meeting' through my talks. 

I absolutely adore Ms. Madeline - and not just for her soft spoken, gentle English accent (her voice makes you wish you had a recording of it every night reading a storybook as you drifted off to sleep. It's really that lovely.) There is a sweetness to her demeanor mixed with matter-of-fact statements that keep you on your toes when she speaks.

Though our first meeting together was on a day that was more wistful than most, I am happy to say that each time we see each other now, it's clear that our initial conversation just happened to be a moment of missing. I am always greeted with a genuine smile and positive update on how her days have been, which makes me so glad. 

"My husband and I were introduced through friends while he was stationed in England and we married in ’52.

My mother and husband didn’t like one another but they would hold each other in high regard. She called him once at 2 o’clock in the morning to fix something. He got in his car and went right over. Of course, he grumped the whole way over and she called him every name under the sun. My mother would say, ‘You really are well taken care of. If you ask him to do something, he’ll do it.’ And I would agree. She would call him ‘Bastard’ and he would call her ‘Old Bollocks’.

We moved to the states in ’65. It broke her heart. My brother didn’t like him – felt he was taking me away [from family]. We were able to visit 4 times. But when my mother passed away, I wasn’t there. There wasn’t time. It broke my heart."

Ms. Madeline, resident of Crofton Care and Rehabilitation Center, with some of her favorite memories. 

Ms. Madeline, resident of Crofton Care and Rehabilitation Center, with some of her favorite memories. 

DECLARATIONS: THE HIDDEN STORIES OF PRINTED PHOTOS (Ms. Linda)

"Just wait until you see Ms. Linda's room," I was told. "This is probably exactly what you're looking for."

Sure enough, even from the hallway, you could start to see that Ms. Linda's room was a little different than the other spaces we had passed. 

Ms. Linda can be seen all over the facility: delivering the daily paper, taking part in activities, or visiting with others. Her willingness to engage with others comes with ease but should you need a reason for more, just come see the well thought, lovingly created mural of family photographs and personal achievements displayed throughout her room. 

"I love photographs; I this [wall of photos] made."

We go over several of them and I learn about her life and loved ones. 

"These are my cousins children and I helped to raise them. I babysat for their mother while she worked. We're a close knit family." 

Ms. Linda, resident of Crofton Care and Rehabilitation Center, is always active in the facility and most proud to have completed a 60 mile walk for Cancer.

Ms. Linda, resident of Crofton Care and Rehabilitation Center, is always active in the facility and most proud to have completed a 60 mile walk for Cancer.

It's clear how proud she is to show off the life she's been surrounded with. I wasn't sure if she would be able to narrow down her favorite when I asked if she could choose just one.

“[My favorite picture is] my walk and the picture of the kids up there, the big one. I did the walk for cancer, 60 miles. I’m 70. I had breast cancer and I’m cancer free."

[It makes me feel] happy. I spend a lot of time looking at them.”

DECLARATIONS: THE HIDDEN STORIES OF PRINTED PHOTOS (MS. Jan)

"I have always had in my home a wall of family pictures. My children all have pictures of my husband, themselves, their brothers and sisters and things. My youngest daughter has all of the photos that used to be in a shoebox. The kids would always have such fun when they’d come to visit me, they’d all be home going through those pictures saying, ‘Do you remember this?!’ and ‘Oh! Look at that!’ It was just a joy for me to sit and listen and watch. I started putting them into albums and she has all of those, too. I would hope that she would pass them down.

"This photograph represents a lot of family memories and DC trips we had. Probably between ’65 and ’68, I would think. It could have been 1969.  We moved out here, everyone who had ever known us wanted to come visit! I became a DC tour guide for everyone. 

Ms. Jan tells many stories of family visits as we look at her photos. 

Ms. Jan tells many stories of family visits as we look at her photos. 

Ms. Jan with her parents. 

Ms. Jan with her parents. 

"One of the reasons I love this picture is because it’s of my mother and my husband, and my mother and my husband are both gone, so it’s pretty special to me. I just wish my dad was in it (my dad took the picture).

"They (my parents) used to live in Iowa and they would come out for a visit a couple a times a year. We would drive around and give them a tour of DC, I think this was the first time they were there. We probably went out to some nice restaurant for dinner and Mt. Vernon. We just had such a nice day that day. My parents were both in good health and happy.

If I had come over, sat on your couch, and we started talking, even though the story you just told me isn’t this specific photograph, this photograph brings up all of these memories and represents a lot of other family D.C. trips that we had."

 

 

 

 

DECLARATIONS: THE HIDDEN STORIES OF PRINTED PHOTOS (MS. MYRTLE)

This may surprise some people but walking into strangers lives and asking them for intimate details is not always greeted with open arms. It's completely understandable, of course, to be wary of a girl with a camera and a asking to record a conversation with her. It was a pleasant surprise when I was greeted by Ms. Mable with bright eyes, a giant smile, and a strong, friendly, 'Well, hello!'.

One of the things that I love about Ms. Mable is she knows exactly what has made her happy in life and isn't afraid to share it with others. You get the sense that she knows you'll be just as happy to hear it as she is to tell it - and she's right. Not only is her joy contagious, her stories have made her an inspiration to me on a personal level. I make sure to remind her each time I see her that I'm doing my best to carry her spirit over to my own young daughters.   

Ms. Myrtle, resident of Crofton Care and Rehabilitation Center, with her accomplishments proudly displayed as the facilities Spotlight Resident. 

Ms. Myrtle, resident of Crofton Care and Rehabilitation Center, with her accomplishments proudly displayed as the facilities Spotlight Resident. 

“The first greatest thing is my life is my children, I’ve got 7 sons and 2 daughters. The second is my nursing degree and the third is my award from President Obama (I volunteered 100 hours in one year).

"I got my nursing license in the 60’s. It was hard, people don’t like to talk about it now but Annapolis was a very segregated place. We were there when the civil rights leaders were marching and everything. My sister was holding a banner, marching in front of the segregated restaurants. They would throw hot water on her. But then [eyes widening], Martin Luther came along. I was a nurse and housewife, and he was doing his thing for the civil rights. I kept up with it, I was so proud that I was born on the same birthday as him.

"I was fortunate to have my dream, and that was to be a nurse. And to have children – I just loved hanging on to them! My grandmother used to say, ‘God said to get married and multiply, but you don’t have to do it all by yourself!’ [laughs]

I’ve had a lot of ups and downs – but that’s life. I was up, things would happen that made them go down, but you’ve got to hang in there. I thank God I able to grow up in the past generation and the present.”

Working with Julia Kelleher

While many creatives are thought to be simply ‘blessed’ or ‘lucky’ to have the ability to hone into that artistic gene, a little known fact about us is that behind the brush, pencil, or lens and deeply pitted behind the scenes is a constant feed of education. Surprised?

Certainly education comes in all forms (thank goodness) and while the internet, combined with social media, has provided incredible avenues to easily and affordably access a way to learn, being side by side another professional in the field is invaluable on many levels. 

I greatly miss the days of being in the SCAD classrooms, listening to a wide range of perspectives on how to improve, feeling the energy of a small room barely able to contain so much artistic energy from a handful of people, and being continuously challenged to push my skills to a higher level. 

In June I had an incredible opportunity to personally mentor next to a Photographer who has inspired, educated, and pushed me over the internet the last several years, Julia Kelleher of Jewel Images, Inc. A jam packed 36 hours in Bend, Oregon with Julia, Beth, and Belinda (the lovely ladies behind the newborn and maternity images adored by many) proved to be even more valued than I had hoped. 

Maryland Print Artist and Photographer, Teresa Robertson, visits with Julia Kelleher of Jewel Images (Bend, OR).

Maryland Print Artist and Photographer, Teresa Robertson, visits with Julia Kelleher of Jewel Images (Bend, OR).

Each and every step I take when working with my sweet clients, especially their newest bundle of joy, is a dance I’m constantly working to perfect between creativity, skill, and professionalism. While I understand why there may be a misconception with Photographers that there isn’t much more to simply picking up the best camera within arms reach and simply clicking the shutter, I take pride in sharing with my clients through their experience with me that I’m trained to do so much more than that. 

Over many moves and many workplaces (#MilitaryLife), I’ve been so fortunate to have picked up part of my skills with ‘on the job training’ from being a makeup artist for mannequins to working at the headquarters of Careerbuilder, all in addition to my formal education. I know with every job, there was an aspect of others outside of the position not always knowing the ins and outs of what truly when into a days work (have you ever been asked, ‘Honey, what do you do all day?’).   

I certainly don’t expect - or even want - you to know the fine details and training that go into your time with me. What I want is to feel confident that I am providing you the greatest service and product I can. More important than that, I want you to feel that I cared so much more about preserving your memories than just picking up a camera and clicking the shutter.

Thank you again to the women behind Jewel Images for being another important piece to my development and allowing me to create the heirlooms of your memories. I look forward to showing you what I have gained from this experience with Julia Keller in many sessions to come.

 

DECLARATIONS: THE HIDDEN STORIES OF PRINTED PHOTOS (MS. VIRGINIA)

I almost wasn't allowed to interview Ms. Virginia. After a story that was written about her than wasn't 100% correct (I don't believe it was a malicious intent), she was determined not to let that happen again. Truth be told, if I were over 100 years old and still going strong, I would probably be just as passionate that my story be told right. 

One of the pleasant surprises in interviewing people in this series has been the stories of friendship. Maybe I need to expand my expectations a bit, but love stories, war, work, and family are pretty much what I expected to hear throughout my conversations. The pictures and tales of girlfriends sticking together for years through good times and bad just warms my heart and feels so encouraging to know that the memory of these friendships have lasted.

“My husband and I were married August 29th and Pearl Harbor came. He had just gotten a job; we were engaged quite a while because he didn’t have a job and you couldn’t just get them back then. It was a time when people were selling apples and anything they could do. So, he got a job with the government and hadn’t had it too long when we got married.

"We moved to Philidelphia in a Jewish neighborhood on 56th and Pine and I loved it. The people couldn’t have been any nicer no matter what you think. I went to a little Jewish delicatessen and my Jewish friend, Sylvia, and I would go to the barrel (I wish they had a Jewish delicatessen here), she’d pick out a tomato, I’d pick out a nice hot pickle, and a big bag of potato chips. And we’d sit on the steps and eat it. She’d say, ‘Gini, I’m going to make a Jew out of you yet!’ laughs

Ms. Virginia, resident of Crofton Care and Rehabilitation Center, with family photos and stories of her best friend. 

Ms. Virginia, resident of Crofton Care and Rehabilitation Center, with family photos and stories of her best friend. 

"Sylvia lived above me. One day, when she came down to see me – nobody ever locked their door – she just walked into the room and she said, ‘Gini, guess what? I’ve been watching this candy bar there on your window sill.’ I said, ‘On my window sill?’  

‘Yes!’

Well, I went over, I moved the curtain and there was a big candy bar. My husband would hide things for me, everywhere. We didn’t have a whole lot of money but he would hide things like that. He would say, ‘I wanted to see if she dusted.’ Laughs

He had a great sense of humor, he really did.

Some of Ms. Virginia's family photos. 

Some of Ms. Virginia's family photos. 

DECLARATIONS: THE HIDDEN STORIES OF PRINTED PHOTOS (MS. CHRISTEL)

Before meeting Ms. Christel I was told that she was quite proud of her apartment, which was easy to understand, given the tastefully decorated interior. Her introduction was warm and as fast as I could admire her beautiful furniture and fresh flowers, she was making me feel right at home, chatting about her day, what was to come, and how much she loved where she lived.

Her sweet and cozy space held a lot of natural light, was incredibly tidy, and seemed to house exactly what she would need on a day-to-day basis. Surrounded by many gorgeous framed photographs, I commented on how I appreciated that she chose to surround herself with her memories.

Her eyes brightened. ‘Oh! Would you like to see my albums?’

We walked to the living room to the very narrow closet door. I don’t know how many albums I was expecting to find – I can assure you it was much less than what I found.

“I’m telling you – I sit in that chair almost every night and look at my photo albums for hours. We [my family] have so many fun memories. I try to watch TV but there’s never anything important on.”

Ms. Christel proudly displaying her album collection. 

Ms. Christel proudly displaying her album collection. 

I couldn’t believe how many there were. Looking back, I should have possibly asked to count her dinnerware set, just to see which there were more of. Cruises, celebrations, weddings, family, and custom made photo books to commemorate anniversaries and birthdays. It was impressive and joyful.

If there were photos that didn’t somehow include her husband, I don’t remember. We talked of how fond they were of one another, the adventures they had. I asked her how it all began.

“One afternoon at a café in Germany, a friend said to me, ‘Look at that nice looking gentleman at the bar.’ I didn’t pay much mind and went about my visit with her.

When it was time to leave I began walking down the street to my transportation stop and I could tell I was being followed. Once I reached my destination, I turned to find it was the gentleman from the café bar.

I said (confidently), ‘Why are you following me?’  

He replied, ‘Because I liked what I saw.’ “

She makes a swooning gesture.

While I am certainly an advocate for printing images, it’s witnessing others making the choice to spend time reliving happy memories over a game show or rerun, that give me the gentle reminder to revisit my images (cell phone, professional, or anything in between) and make sure I am up to date on preserving them in some tangible form. I like to think one of the reasons Ms. Christel still holds her smile sweet and has a warm twinkle in her eye is because of the constant love she is shown through reminders of her family and loved ones; and that’s a pretty wonderful way to stay happy.

Ms. Christel still swoons over her husband to this day. 

Ms. Christel still swoons over her husband to this day. 

 

Declarations: The Hidden Stories of Printed Photos (Ms. Catherine)

Volunteering is near and dear to my heart, though it wasn't something even on my radar growing up. I'm sure it's because of this that I'm always amazed by the people I meet who have accomplished amazing things reaching out to others and all on their own time. 

Ms. Catherine was my very first interview at Crofton Care and Rehabilitation Center, so I was still getting my bearings as to how our conversation may go. Without skipping a beat and as calmly as could be presented, Ms. Catherine told me of all the work she had done in New York, volunteering so passionately in the community that she had been recognized by President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Mayor Bloomberg - just to name a few. 

Ms. Catherine holds a signed image from Michelle Obama.

Ms. Catherine holds a signed image from Michelle Obama.

'My favorite picture, I can't find. We were at Gracie Mansion, being poured champagne, and acknowledged for the work we had done.' Despite not locating this image, there were so many that supported her efforts and showed a lifetime of love towards others, all fascinating to go through and hear stories of. 

I'm so inspired by women like her. Going through the stacks of photos just lend another level of appreciation and tangible way to be encouraged. 

Ms. Catherine, resident of Crofton Care and Rehabilitation Center, holding a portion of the recognitions she's received through her work in New York. 

Ms. Catherine, resident of Crofton Care and Rehabilitation Center, holding a portion of the recognitions she's received through her work in New York. 

DECLARATIONS: THE HIDDEN STORIES OF PRINTED PHOTOS (MS. Vivian)

It wasn't planned, you can barely even see us (let alone recognize us) but I am so grateful to have a photo of my husband's and my first date together. In celebration of my own anniversary, I thought it would be appropriate to share Ms. Vivian's photo with you of one of her first dates with her husband. 

After exchanging pleasantries, I looked around the room; it was clear to me what photo must be her favorite. 

Classic black and white, this photo looked like something out of an advertisement. Two fresh faced, beaming young adults so naturally beautiful and passing their joyful smiles right back to whomever was their audience. There wasn't any indication of the scene, though they were clearly at the beach. I wondered if it were a quiet getaway or if the gang from Beach Blanket Bingo were in the background. Whatever was going on, I wanted to be there. 

Ms. Vivian, resident of Crofton Care and Rehabilitation Center, holding a photo of her husband and her during one of their first dates.

Ms. Vivian, resident of Crofton Care and Rehabilitation Center, holding a photo of her husband and her during one of their first dates.

When I expressed how much I loved this picture, she sort of laughed and said, "Really?" as though she couldn't have understood why. I told her I wished my husband and I had one just like it and asked if it was one of her favorites; she sort of shrugged. "My children went through some of my stuff, found it and kept it. Stored it away with other family things and when they went through it again, they liked it so much they framed it. They made a copy and told me to put it out."

I had to laugh, mainly because I could see having the same conversation with my own family. 

"There must be some importance to this photograph. What was going on at the time?''

“My husband had just come back from WWII, a Marine, and it was one of our first dates that we went to – the beach. That’s why he doesn’t have a shirt on. He was only 18 when he went into the Marines to fight in the South Pacific and I was just graduating high school (I didn’t know him before). That was the only action he was in, not quite 2 years.

My sister and he were on the same college campus and one Sunday morning when we all got out of church, she introduced me to him. This photo would have been taken amongst the first 5 dates. I don’t think [our date] was that much different; he would pick me up, we would go to Virginia Beach. I’m not a swimmer but he is. I imagine he just took me home and I probably asked when we could go out again. I don't know what we were laughing at but probably my sister because I still have this picture."

I loved that she was confident enough to ask for another date and have to think her then suitor must have thought the same. 

I asked her, "If that isn't your favorite photo of the two of you, what is?"

She pointed to a more formal picture of the two of them, clearly a little later in their marriage. "I would have to say this one. I'm not sure why or what we were doing. But we were together."

Ms. Vivian and her husband, later in their marriage.

Ms. Vivian and her husband, later in their marriage.

Declarations: The Hidden Stories of Printed Photos (Ms. Gay)

I never ceases to amaze me how often we can casually be around someone for a good amount of time and never really know what amazing things they’ve accomplished in life.

Gay and I attend the same church in Annapolis and we see each other fairly often. Our conversations have never been lengthy, just your typical pleasantries exchanged; though with her ability to light up any room with her warm smile, I’ve always appreciated when she was near.

While I certainly assume everyone has stories to share, I realize I am not asking nearly enough for them to be shared. I don’t know what I expected to hear when I asked if Gay worked outside of the home when her children were young but I can assure you it wasn’t the answer I received.

“I worked for NASA for 30 years; I was there for the first flight. We [women] all started out in a clerical position when we first went in. As people retired and aged out, they didn’t replace them because by that time the government had turned so much of the work over to contractors, so I ended up being in charge of the whole section. I was in charge of all of the documentation for the flights.”

Gay was one of the first people I asked to interview and my first appointed for this passion project. She set the bar pretty high; not only did we meet outside of her home, she brought stacks and stacks of photo albums with her.

Annapolis, Maryland resident Ms. Gay with one of her custom family albums. 

Annapolis, Maryland resident Ms. Gay with one of her custom family albums. 

Not just any kind of photo albums – custom, thoughtfully arranged photo albums that she goes through and curates individually for her children and grandchildren. For now she holds on to them so that she can reminisce on her own but these are ultimately created to be passed on when the time is appropriate.

“Through the years, we all had picture albums. I’m 82, so those generations we had picture albums because we didn’t have the phones to take a picture. If somebody took a picture, you passed it around the family so that everyone had a picture. I thought about the fact that everybody now in the family around my granddaughter’s age, all of their pictures are in their phone or the pictures are on a CD that the Photographer gave them. I don’t like it because most of the time I don’t get copies of the CD’s and I don’t have an iPhone. They’ll say, ‘Look at the pictures I took!’ and they’ll show me on their iPhone, then their phone goes away...and I don’t have it for reminiscing.

“I want my family to remember things. When your children get older and they start talking about their past – half of it’s wrong [laughs]. And I will tell you, even if it sounds like a funny story, I don’t want only the bad times remembered. I want to make sure they talk about the good times and the memories like these [points to albums]; every birthday, every holiday, every Easter with their little shoes, and their little gloves, and their little hat…they’re all in there. I want to make sure my grandchildren know about the good times.

I think it will help the memories be perpetuated through the years. We get very sentimental as we get older through the years.”

Ms. Gay shows off just a few of the photos that celebrate special times in her family. 

Ms. Gay shows off just a few of the photos that celebrate special times in her family. 

On one hand, piecing these albums together is clearly a lot of work. On the other, the value these albums will bring through the years and generations to come far exceeds the time they took to create.

Declarations: The Hidden Stories of Printed Photos (Mr. Ed)

Mr. Ed is a stranger to no one; which is good since he has people wanting to talk to or interview him on a regular basis. Featured in the book Brave Ship Brave Men by Arnold S. Lott and video Veteran Voices – Edward Strine, many come to hear his stories of being on the USS Aaron Ward Destroyer during WWII - specifically when a suicide plane hit.

The story is well rehearsed. Possibly from telling it repeatedly, making sure key details aren’t left out, or maybe the script helps keep an emotional distance. No matter how it’s told, the horror of it and the amazement that he is alive to tell it at all is captivating to anyone who listens. He humbly ends with, ‘I’m well respected; I try to treat people well, encourage them, and take each day as it comes. I feel I’m doing God’s work – I’m very close to God.’

Mr. Ed holding a photo of his ‘Blue eyed Irish angel’. He is surrounded by images of his time with the Navy and his wife.

Mr. Ed holding a photo of his ‘Blue eyed Irish angel’. He is surrounded by images of his time with the Navy and his wife.

As we sit and I listen to his story, I look around his room filled with American memorabilia, awards, and newspaper clippings. These are recognizable and catch my attention at first, accessories to what I’m being told. Slowly, I start to notice the balance within his belongings.

‘Is this your wife?’

Suddenly, the mood shifts and I am being introduced to his ‘Blue-eyed Irish Angel’. It’s easy – and rightfully so – to become consumed with his grand display of military items Mr. Ed has in him home. Just a bit of a closer look, however, and you start to see an equally important part his life that not as many people ask about.  

“She [my wife] was 9 and I was 11 in elementary school. We were out playing softball and I could tell the [inaudible] was going to hit someone off to the side where they were watching us. I walked over to apologize and then when I got there I saw she was in the middle [of the crowd] crying, she was scared. So I went home to tell my mother, she said, ‘Eddie, you did the right thing.’ Next day she came across, this nine-year-old girl, walking across the field and had something in her hand. She said, ‘Mr. Ed, thank you for your handkerchief.’ I said, ‘I don’t think I had a handkerchief (laughs)’. She said, ‘Oh, yes you did. Thank you, sir.’

She’s my blue eyed, Irish girl. She was an angel, in every aspect. She taught me to be a gentleman. I was devastated [when she died]. I really was.”

Mr. Ed, known for his war stories, passionately talked about the love he has for his wife. 

Mr. Ed, known for his war stories, passionately talked about the love he has for his wife. 

He tells me small stories of their time together and, unlike his recollection of his time in the Navy, it’s not exactly what he says, but the tender, insistent way he speaks of her. Over and over again he speaks of what an angel she was during their time together and how she is the reason he became the man he is today.

After talking about several photos he has of his love, I ask him which would be one of the most important to him.

“This [photo] is when she was sick, knew she was going to die. They couldn’t do anything more for her and we’re going off the beach one last time. That’s a memory.”

 

DECLARATIONS: THE HIDDEN STORIES OF PRINTED PHOTOS (Ms. Mary)

In the center of a bustling community, there is one door that stays a little busier than most. As I walk to Ms. Mary's front door, I pass a group of people gathered outside, relaxed and seemingly in no hurry to be anywhere than each other's company. I'm greeted with smiles and half waves, and I'm pretty sure if I had pulled up a chair to seat myself next to them, there wouldn't be much protest. 

Inside Ms. Mary's more people are gathered but in a much more organic fashion: two individuals seated on different sides of the couch, someone in the kitchen, voices of younger kids in the back bedrooms, and Ms. Mary in the center of it all at the dining table. 

I'm unfamiliar with everyone but I instantly feel at home, as though I'm back in my Grandmother's house as a child with cousins and distant relatives coming and going with ease. In such a cozy setting there's a such an air of openness, acceptance, and comfort that I haven't felt in a long time. It's clear that this is a known gathering place for a laugh, a quick 'borrow' of celery, or just to be silent in the presence of others. 

In the middle of of the activity centered with Ms. Mary is a large, painterly portrait of a man. He looks strong but kind, old enough to be an adult but still young. 

“This is my first born son, his name is Calvin Eugene Parker. He was born June 5th. His hobbies were music, cooking, getting on my nerves [laughs]. He got sick when he was about 25, wound up with COPD. Most of it came from he got into drugs. It really messed up his lungs. He went into a coma about 5 years after he got sick. He came out November 24th, which was Thanksgiving. We sat, we had dinner, we laughed, we talked, he got up to leave, he collapsed in the parking lot, and he passed away.

Ms. Mary with her husband, Calvin, and their first born son, Calvin Jr.

Ms. Mary with her husband, Calvin, and their first born son, Calvin Jr.

I think of him all the time but it’s harder on Thanksgiving when I get up and I start preparing for the day. I talk to him. Sometimes I come out and I just sit there, especially when I’m having a bad day and I just talk to him and say, ‘Oh, Bird. Here we is again.’ (That’s what we used to call him).

We had good times, we had happy times. He loved to cook. We used to have cookouts and we’d have parties, him and I in the kitchen and we liked to compete. He would say, ‘You make your dish and I’ll make mine’. We would compete with one another for whose taste the best. We loved getting together, cooking, having fun, playing cards. He was a sweetheart. Oh, we had happy times. We had some sad. I used to get into his crap like I do the rest of them, when they’re getting into the stuff they shouldn’t be getting into. Ole Mother Bear would come out. All of my kids get along – to a certain extent (what Momma says, goes). But I think we have a nice, happy, tight nit family.

No matter what is going on, he’s still a part of the family. We don’t see him as ‘gone’. When we all get together, the whole family gets together.”