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Monday, March 13, 2017

To Grandma Mabel on her 94th birthday

What do you get a 94-year-old woman who already has everything she needs and wants? I wracked my brain trying to imagine what might surprise her as a mark of celebration of her years on the earth.
Grandma has lived in the same home as long as I have been around, and much longer. It is devoid of clutter. She doesn’t have knick knacks; she has valuable figurines. Dogs, birds, horses, three Siamese cats sitting on the floor where real cats might rest. Ladies in poufy ballroom gowns and gentlemen characters that bear the Royal Doulton crest. I would have to take out a loan to get her another one to add to her collection. I could get her another book – but like her son (my father) she would have that gift devoured in a few days. I imagined what I would like to receive as a gift if I were her age.
Lately I’ve been making photo books as gifts for my loved ones. I thought I would make one for Grandma, with photographic contributions from all of her family. Well, that turned out to be quite a feat. First of all, getting all my cousins to respond to my request for photos took a bit of time. Then, when the images started to filter in through email, many of them were not suitable for what I had in mind. I wanted pictures of them alone or with Grandma, but in a way that you could actually see their happy, smiling faces. I got some interesting submissions, let me tell ya. In the end, I only had room for a few photos from each part of the family, because I decided to do something a little different.
One night I went to my mother’s house and we tore into her treasure trove of old photographs. Which reminds me – my mother needs a new method of photo storage. Some nice big collector’s boxes would be good, because she has hundreds of old pictures stuffed into plastic bags and albums would be too expensive. We sat on the couch, holding up one photo at a time and she told me the story behind it or I produced a memory. It’s amazing how many of our memories are tied to photographs. It makes you wonder whether you would remember that house, that car or even that person if you didn’t have a photograph of them to help you.
Some of the oldest photographs were in frames, and we didn’t want to disturb them so I turned the flash off on my phone and snapped a picture. It’s amazing the quality of photographs a smart phone can take these days. After about an hour I had over two dozen photographs dating back to when my grandmother from South Porcupine, Ontario married a man working in the Timmins mine when she was just 17. There is a picture of Grandma and Grandpa – Mabel and Garnet – standing outside our first house in Kemptville in 1966. A beautiful red sports car (my dad’s) is gleaming in the driveway behind them.
There are photos of the cottage they used to own, where we spent many summers. Some of those pictures have taken on a sepia tone but you can still make out the sense of frivolity and play in the subjects. Through the ‘80s there are pictures of trips through Arizona and Hawaii. Grandpa was gone by then but Grandma travelled with her two sons and their wives. She also loved to go on cruises with her best friend, Addie.
Travelling up through the ‘90s and 2000’s we have photos of grandchildren and great grandchildren galore. These are divided up into mini-collages on each page because of their number. Mabel and Garnet did well in their cultivation of the Leeson family tree.
My USB stick of submitted photos and smart phone in hand, I headed to the Walmart photo booth to lay out a photo book. It took me approximately four hours to edit the photos and lay them out on the pages because the app kept disconnecting me and starting over. Talk about an exercise in frustration! I was exhausted and ready for a glass of wine at the end of it – and the end result is not perfect but I think Grandma will like it.

Welcome to your 95th year on the Earth, Grandma. Here’s to making more memories. 

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