Friday, July 31, 2009

Story Behind the Picture: In Tune

My children will always live in a home filled with music. They were born to parents who play, dance, sing, and generally live music (we don’t do any of these things with immense talent, but we do them nonetheless). Our oldest son already plays tunes by ear on his little piano and instantly recognizes Bob Dylan’s work (mom, if you are reading this, you can keep your disparaging comments to yourself). Our youngest enjoys performing his own, personalized version of the “Nutcracker” as we applaud and try not to laugh too hard. Most dinners in our home are followed not by dessert but by the evening “dance party” in the living room, complete with cavorting dogs and very uncoordinated husband.
This photograph is a macro view of the keys on my husband’s bass guitar. While I’ll often make fun of his dancing (see above) or his singing (dying goose, anyone?), his skill with instruments is remarkable. This guitar is a fixture in our home, and I’ll often find him with one of the boys on his lap, teaching them to play their beginning chords. Someone recently mistook the keys and strings in this photograph for the cleats and ropes of a boat, but I find the similarities more than just visual: music takes us on journeys, lets us explore, allows us to travel. For those reasons (and many more), our children will always live in a home filled with music.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Story Behind the Picture: Roots

I walk past these trees nearly every day. They exist on the banks of a near-by creek, defying storms, floods, and gravity with the strength of their roots. They are two very distinct, separate trees. High above the frame of this image, they lean away from one another, each sheltering its own portion of the creek with massive limbs and glossy leaves. Most people comment on the leaves, on the shade, on the expanse of those ancient branches, but I'm not most people. I'm drawn to the roots, to their very base, where they knit down into the earth and support one another in snow and sun alike. It's easy to find someone who will stand beside you, but rarest of all is the person who will cling to the earth with you while still giving space to breathe at the top. We should all be so fortunate as the trees.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Story Behind the Picture: Cooper Collage

I have a confession to make: there is another woman in my husband's life. How can I sit here and calmly type such a thing, you ask? Because I've known about it for two years and I realize there is really nothing I can do. He's in love. With a car.

Two and a half years ago, Marty decided he just had to have a blue Mini Cooper. The reason? His arduous and lengthy commute to work: the Mini is quite efficient and uses very little gas.

Me: "Of course it uses very little gas: it's a toy car!"
Marty: "I'll pretend I didn't hear that."

So off we went to the Mini dealership for a test drive. Oh, did I mention that I was 8.99 months pregnant at the time of the aforementioned test drive?

Me: staring at impossibly tiny front seat "I'm not going to fit in that car."
Marty: "Of course you will! Just try it!"
Me: "Greenpeace just put me on their latest watch list - I look like Shamu in a dress - no way!"

I made it inside and was able to clear the dashboard with several relaxing nanometers to spare.

Marty: "Hey, if you fit in here now, then image how comfortable you'll be when you're not hu-"
Me: "Not what? Not HUGE?"
Marty: sensing the danger "I love you, honey!"

We bought the Mini. And every Saturday since, my husband disappears to the garage to undertake the same ritual: detailing the car.

Me: "Where have you been for the past three hours?"
Marty: "I noticed a speck of pollen and a fingerprint on the hood of the Mini, so I decided to wash, wax, and detail the entire car inside and out."

I only wish he was as attentive to the other aspects of domestic life as he is to his beloved Mini Cooper.

Marty: "Honey, where are my socks?
Me: "On your feet, darling."
Marty: "Oh - thanks!"

I don't mind sharing him with "the other woman," as I now call her. She's quite fun to drive and you can squeeze into impossibly tiny on-street parking spaces in Philly (Ha! Take that, overcrowded, overpriced parking garages!). She's also quite boxy and cute, perfect for the square format of the vintage viewfinder, so I immortalized her for my husband and boys to enjoy, long after Marty is too old to pull off the driving-a-tiny-blue-car look, and the boys are too tall to fit in the back seat without complaining that their knees are bumping into their chins. Until then, if anyone is looking for Marty on a Saturday, he's probably in the garage with the other woman.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Story Behind the Picture: Wedding Shoes

This weekend I had the incredible honor of attending my dear friend Keith’s wedding: he and his bride Sarah kindly invited my whole family to the beautiful event (even the boys, who miraculously behaved like cherubs ...I’m wondering if my father bribed them with the promise of new cars on their 16th birthdays). In case it isn’t obvious from the photograph, Keith and his family are Scottish - his father, John, agreed to pose proudly with his son for my photograph. Afterwards, he looked down and noticed the way Keith had tied the laces of his shoes.

Keith’s dad: “You’ve tied them wrong!”
Keith: “I’ve done no such thing!”
Keith’s dad: “Yes y’have! They should be tied to the side, like mine, not in the front! I can’t take ye anywhere, can I?”

This, of course, is banter I’ve been privy too for the eleven years that I’ve known Keith. We met in graduate school at a Caleigh dance where there were quite a few inebriated folks performing what was meant to be the “Highland Fling.” My rendition was probably more “fling” and less “Highland,” but Keith and his friends took pity on the loud American who was, at the very least, putting forth a good effort. Luck was very much on our side when we ended sitting inches from one another for the next year: I in stroke seat and he in the coxswain’s “throne” of several extremely fast eights. Keith was - and is - the best coxswain I’ve ever had the privilege of rowing with. All jokes aside about short, bossy people with loud voices, having Keith in that seat was tantamount to walking in a bad neighborhood with a pit bull: no one stood a chance against us. Better yet, he never yelled at us, he yelled for us, a difference that I’m convinced is instinctive and cannot be taught. My husband (also a rower) always laughs when I insist it’s just as physically demanding to cox as to row a race, but I don’t think he’s ever seen someone invest themselves the way Keith did. Even in practice, he brought legendary intensity: no matter the weather (usually rain) or the exhaustion level (usually high), he found our speed for us.

Keith is the same in friendship as he is in coxing - unwavering, intense, complete. He actually helped pick out the shoes I wore on my first date with my husband:

Me: "Which ones should I wear?"
Keith: “That pair says ‘take me seriously, I’m highly intellectual.’”
Me: “And these?”
Keith: “They say ‘I’m a complete tart and I’m here for a good time.’”

(And no, I’ll never tell which ones I chose).

Keith has steered me into more blade clashes than any other cox (we never lost a single one), has baby-sat my children (although he looked very panicked as I left the house), and has climbed atop rickety scaffolding to paint our hallway (because we finally had to put him to work during a visit where he sat on our couch for over a week). I look forward to spending decades more with Keith and Sarah, and sharing this photograph - and my memories - with their children.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Story Behind the Picture: Hydrangea

This hydrangea lives outside a firehouse in Old City, Philadelphia. I found it one sunny fall afternoon as my husband and boys watched the fire crew wash and detail one of their engines. Unlike the gentlemen, I was not quite as mesmerized by the shiny metal and vibrant red paint, so I strolled along the street, photographing the flowers that still bloomed in the early autumn warmth. As I worked, a woman approached. Her unwashed hair was streaked with gray, her clothes needed mending, and she held tight to her large, threadbare bag as though it was her habit to carefully guard this one possession. Her kind brown eyes completely disarmed me: I found myself smiling as she stopped next to the hydrangea.

“Would you like a portrait drawn?” she asked. “I’m an artist and I’d be happy to do one for you.” Danny had recently posed for a caricature at a local fair, but Lucas had refused to comply. “I would love a sketch of my youngest son,” I replied, “if we can convince him to sit still.” We found a little park nearby complete with fountain and pigeons for him to watch. We officially introduced ourselves, and Lucas sat quietly as Carol pulled out a thick tablet of paper and a blue magic marker. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed when I saw the marker…I assumed it would be a childish drawing, perhaps even as limited as my own abilities with pen and paper.

I looked away for a moment and watched the sun glint off the surface of the water, sending patterns of light over the brick walls of the courtyard. When I looked back at the tablet, tears welled in my eyes as I saw Lucas’ face coming to life on the paper. The shape of his chin, the waves of his hair, the length of his eyelashes: all masterfully captured by the talents of Carol’s weathered hands. She spoke to herself as she worked, muttering many things I could not understand. I did catch a few snippets of her life: her previous life as a teacher, a sister that lived in Michigan who begged Carol to come live with her. “Will you go stay with her?” I asked. “I’ll think about it,” she said quietly, never letting her eyes drift from the paper.

I saw Marty’s amused expression as I handed her more than the amount she requested for her services. “I’m surprised you trusted her,” he said after we said good-bye and we watched her shuffle away down the sidewalk. “My intuition told me she was a sweet lady,” I answered quietly, hoping Carol would let her family take care of her before the frigid winter weather took hold of the city and the lovely pink hydrangeas became wind-dried memories.

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