With a camera in hand, I am given the gift of sight. Nothing is different, but in scanning for potential pictures, I see wonder wherever my glance falls. A crumbling log terraced with mushrooms. A twist of vines looping from the forest floor to its canopy. Even machinery left to rust in an overgrown field brings the camera to my eye and I muse, did the farmer know, as he climbed from the seat, that it would be his last time in that perch?
With my camera, I’d been drawn outside by a glimpse from the bathroom window of sunlight hazy-gold on woods veiled in morning mist. When I returned to the house, camera-sight still upon me, I fell newly in love with the warmth of old floorboards and the sooty expanse of our vast fireplace. And it gave me an idea for a Christmas present for Dave.
What do you give a spouse after thirty-seven years of marriage? (Not a tankard with tiny letters…) and his drawers are full of too many shirts and sweaters from Christmases past. As I walked through the house, smiling at witches and Santas, an odd mish-mash in this in-between season of holiday cross-over, I thought…home. I thought, an album. Pictures that tell our story as well as what is here.
So, I started with spots and angles I love: the view from the fireplace room into the front hall, the wooden cradle Dave’s brother made for baby Casey, the quilt purchased at a flea market in the eighties, and the victorian icebox given to Dave for fifteen years at Eagle Hill. I strolled to the living room and snapped the cupboards our friend Steve Larrabee built, and the folded American flag displayed there that had draped Dave’s father’s coffin. I turned and squinted to click the deacon’s bench Dave made for my wedding present, and the fox weathervane that once spun on my grandfather’s barn.
In the dining room, I lined up a shot of the table and the encircling black Windsor chairs, Steve’s work as well. My project in progress - a Santa for my nephew Trev, his wife, Lisa, and their daughter, Ava - stood on the table. When our kids, Tucker and Casey, were little, Dave and I made almost every present we gave. Those days are gone, and I’ve loved the feel of clay on my fingers again, the total absorption in creation, my thoughts not of worries, but where to add another pinch of clay, or how best to use each silky curl of lambs’ wool; which should be eyebrows, which the mustache?
I photographed the narrow stairway, remembering all the Christmas mornings when the kids and I sat at the top, waiting for Dave to fulfill his Santa duties downstairs, turning on the tree lights and Christmas carols, putting a match to the fire. Then I trotted up the steps and took a picture looking down, at the cupboard below, the Indian blanket on the wall, these stairs we climb and descend every day.
In the kids’ rooms I paused. Much of their stuff remains even though they’ve moved out. They are busy, we have more space than they do, and I don’t want to bug them…besides, I want these rooms still to be theirs. So, Tucker’s looks like a teenager’s room, frozen in 1998, with his Tae Kwon Do trophy, a bi-plane of toothpicks, a framed stamp collection, and shelves crammed with Garfield comics, sci-fi, and textbooks.
Casey moved out recently, so her room looks lived –in. It’s a mess, actually, as she’s still sorting. An open suitcase on the floor holds boxes and notebooks; the coat rack is awash with handbags and scarves. Collages from college lean against the wall – Casey and her girls blowing kisses, kids at a party holding large plastic cups (“just water,” she’d claim). Scattered on the bureau and displayed on windowsills rest woodcarvings and shells from her recent journey in Southeast Asia. I miss coming home to find her curled on the bed, doing her nails or listening to music.
Our house loves the fall and winter. She is warm and welcoming, well, not warm in the sense of temperature perhaps… “This house is freezing,” is a common complaint. But with candles in the windows, the old floors freshly oiled, fires blazing in the fireplaces, the house seems alive. She is the hostess, glad to enfold us. As I dashed from room to room, adjusting the focus and clicking, I imagined the house preening with all the attention.
But what is home? I was just about to move aside a water jug at the foot of the steps – the unused toilet on the third floor smells if we don’t keep it filled – when I realized that our life, our story, is not picture perfect. So I replaced the jug and took the shot. I’d shoved aside the basket of laundry waiting in the hall when first I took that photo, but decided to put it back and shot it again.
With this new thought, to capture not just the beauty, but our life in this house, I went a little crazy. I shot the toilet with its tottering pile of magazines, and then off to our closets to capture the clutter of shoes, ties, jeans, and corduroy shirts in Dave’s.
My closet is orderly, but the top shelf is my toy box. Years ago, during a troubled time for me, the book Simple Abundance bid me, “Make yourself happy: assemble a toy box.” So, tacked on the closet walls are fliers for Obama/Biden ‘08 and my nephew Christopher’s Fairfield performance in 2003. Sitting above hangers of blazers, slacks and dresses are Barbies, Cabbage Patch dolls, and mementos from travels – a tiny Sicilian horse and buggy, a mini-Buddha wishing me fearlessness, protection and peace. Old friends droop, well-worn and well-loved on the shelf: my mother’s corduroy bear, Tucker’s pig Bacos, and Casey’s pink bunny. Treasures. My closet of toys and memories makes me smile and speaks to me of home. So, click. A few shots for Dave’s album.
Oh, honesty, honesty begs photos of bedsides and bureaus: debris of the day, mail, books, Kleenex, and pill bottles, glasses, Chapstick, pens and pads. Dave’s bureau is a teetering collection of guitar picks, lottery tickets, cameras with dead batteries, a rubber Red Sox bat, and Beanie Babies. Yes.
My bureau stands at the foot of the bed. It holds wooden angels from friends, received when I had cancer and at my dad’s death. It holds my grandmother’s silver dish in which I place my bangles when I’m not wearing them. And it holds photos of my grandmothers, my parents, sisters, children, and Dave…several pictures of Dave. For despite my photo tour of fireplaces, closets, bureaus, beams and floorboards, for me, home is where Dave is. So, that’s what the album will be about.