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.”

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.”