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.”