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Goats, gripes, and grasping for greatness
My grandparents, and the windows that my photos open 
29th-Dec-2010 03:31 pm
Christmas Snooch
On Monday, I called my grandparents to wish them a Merry Christmas. They were both coherent and "with it" and able to talk about how their holiday had been going. Both of them, separately, mentioned how much they enjoy my letters to them. Last night, I talked to Mom. Among the many topics, my letters to my grandparents came up again.

Every week since August, I have sent my grandparents a letter of some kind, and all of them with full color-printed pictures. The only exception was last week, when I sent them a thank-you note for the Christmas gift.

Mom commented that Grandpa had said that he really appreciated hearing from me every week, but had also made the comment that my letters did not have much content. And, just a day earlier, Grandpa had said to me that the photos were what he really enjoyed in my letters, and used the "worth a thousand words" quote.

I'm not hurt at all that Grandpa doesn't find much content in my letters. Sometimes, I find it very hard to share my day-to-day thoughts with someone six decades, two generations, and two thousand miles away in any manner that makes sense to the both of us together. I'm also admittedly not trying very hard to speak in depth in my words; my big effort has been to include those pictures. I am trying to give my grandparents a window. I'm not particularly trying to give them a window into my life, so much as give them a window out of their life. In this manner, I think that photos are easy to share, because they can see what I see, but interpret them as they wish, not as I do.

Because of this quest for pictures to send to them, I've become kind of a nut about my digital camera. It lives in my purse now, so that I can take pictures wherever I go, of whatever might be interesting, different, unique, or simply representative of life-as-it-happens. I've taken pictures that annoy people, are contextually odd, or simply seem to be irrelevant to the people and items involved. But I ask my poor suffering friends to be patient, be understanding, and above all, consider how those photos will display when removed of nearly ALL of their context except that they come from me.

For example, recently I was out with H at an Indian restaurant, and took a picture of her dinner plate. The context of that photo is nearly irrelevant, and honestly, I could just as easily make up the narration as explain it truthfully. What is important is what it represents when my grandparents see it in color print in that next letter. That photo is an icon, a talisman, a simple calling-on of a cascade of thoughts. That plate of foreign-looking food is a reminder of what my grandparents have done in their long lives, a reminder of the wider world outside of their small one, and a reminder that the world out there still exists. It is a jumping-off point for their own conversations with other people, the "Remember when?" and the "Don't you like?" memory triggers that start stories and arguments that keep them thinking and talking with one another.

My grandparents currently live together in a small, sunshine-filled apartment in an assisted-living facility. That care facility is lovely, light, bright, cheerful, and as homogeneous as cream cheese. Their every physical need is met, but the mental needs are met and never challenged. My grandparents will never navigate a toy-strewn department store, dodge a waiter at a crowded bar, or race to catch that midnight train ever again. They will never again be lost in a foreign city, converse with a lost foreigner on the subway, or be faced with a dish of unrecognizable food in a noisy food court downtown.

So when you see me pull out the camera to take a picture of my flan with a happy face carved into it, or herd people together to pose with smiles over an oven-baked Hawaiian ham, or veer off the road to snap a photo of an oddly-painted house on a side street whose name I'll never remember, please be patient. Consider what that picture may represent to the eyes and mind of a 94-year-old whose adventuring days are as gone as his youth. Consider that the photo that I take of you playing a board game, petting a puppy, or eating that odd-looking food might be the most interesting thing that my grandparents see all week.

Humor me, please, and smile for the camera!
29th-Dec-2010 09:12 pm (UTC)
Lovely. I did some of the care for my grandmother in her declining years, and I know how much pictures can mean.
29th-Dec-2010 09:15 pm (UTC)
Yes, indeed. They both really want to talk about, and share, those pictures with their guests and friends.

I just edited this entry to include a link backwards to last May. If you are in a wandering mood, you may want to go revisit that, as well.
29th-Dec-2010 09:37 pm (UTC)
The grands certainly love every photo. I think the pictures mean as much to them as the memories the photos evoke.
Major karma points, even more so because I know you don't do it for amy reason other than to make their days brighter.
Now I just have to keep Bud from making his codes to Grandpa too elaborate...or at least get him to include the key.
30th-Dec-2010 03:37 pm (UTC)
That's exactly it. I want them to enjoy the time they are spending in "God's waiting room" (as Mom puts it) a little more.
30th-Dec-2010 04:55 am (UTC)
That is an amazing and precious gift that you give them. I wish I still had grandparents as an adult; I would treasure them much more than I did as a child.
30th-Dec-2010 03:35 pm (UTC)
I have been trebly fortunate here. Of my three childhood grandparents, all three of them lived to see me and know me as an adult. (My father's mother died on my 30th birthday.) They saw me grow up. In exchange, I got to know and understand them differently as my world view expanded from childhood into adulthood.

I don't know that I treasure them (as a verb) so much as appreciate beyond depth the memories and experiences that I have had with them.
30th-Dec-2010 04:19 pm (UTC)
I think that is closer to what I meant to say. All of my grandparents were gone before I hit my mid 20's, and my maternal ones had checked out mentally years before that, for various reasons.

All I'm left with were the impressions of childhood. On my paternal side, I was one of 20 grandkids, so none of us were particularly close to our grandparents, as there was always a herd of us around. And my maternal side had their own issues that limited contact with us.

I suppose I'm missing the idea of grandparents more than my actual grandparents.
30th-Dec-2010 05:17 pm (UTC)
I'm missing the idea of grandparents

::nod:: This, I understand. I have been incredibly fortunate that my grandparents really cared about all of us. We were only a little herd, but still, they weren't obligated to care as much as they did. Despite being one of seven grandkids, out of four children, and the next generation now numbering ten great-grandkids, we were/are all special and unique to the Grandparents. Grandpa enjoys retelling each single episode as much as grouping us together for the bigger memory pictures. (And yes, I am *short* for my family!) The seven of us have various degrees of distance from the Grandparents, as per our own preferences, which means that effort was rewarded in the case of both my sister and me.
30th-Dec-2010 04:56 am (UTC)
Wow. You are an amazing granddaughter. :)
30th-Dec-2010 03:36 pm (UTC)

... And yet, it doesn't feel like enough, sometimes.
30th-Dec-2010 03:25 pm (UTC)
This is a fantastic notion. How wonderfully thoughtful and considerate of you. Mind if I borrow your idea, and apply it to my own grandmother?
30th-Dec-2010 03:28 pm (UTC)
Not at all. I hope it works well for you both!
30th-Dec-2010 03:36 pm (UTC)
Thanks! That is appreciated. I hope so, too. Now, to see if I can borrow one of my house mate's digital cameras :)
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