Photography, Stories Told

Memories lost, memories created, memories kept

Photographs restore lost memories and anchor tenuous ones. Through them I catalog my memories and arrange them into timelines. They help me create life narratives in retrospect. But there is a time in my life from which I have few photos. I’m glad, as it is a time I don’t wish to remember.

Which is unfortunate, for my sons were very small then. I have a few memories, snippets and scenes, incomplete: Helping deliver them both. Months of Damion’s colic. His first seizure, a living room full of grave firemen and paramedics caring for him, loading him into an ambulance, me racing in my car to the hospital. A family road trip to San Antonio before his first birthday, miles of gray Interstate highways, getting a speeding ticket in Texarkana, Damion sleeping most of the way. A black depression that fell on me as he turned 1, and how I could find no joy in his day. Baby Garrett climbing the couch with all the steely determination of Chuck Norris chasing the bad guys. His deep misery after a tonsillectomy went wrong, me rocking him for hours while he cried, both of us sleepless. Singing to soothe them both. Making scrambled eggs for their dinner. Reading Dr. Seuss to them, one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish. Bleak days in a deeply broken and destructive marriage, one which I lacked the courage to leave.

I know I can reach more memories of my sons, better ones. But to do that I would necessarily revisit traumatic memories. Good therapy let me work through that awful time. No need to relive it.

My first wife and I hadn’t given up hope yet in 2001. Or was it 2000? I’m guessing. The boys were young, 1 and 3, or 2 and 4. I don’t remember whose idea it was that I get away for a while, that we let raw nerves settle. We agreed it was essential. I booked a week in a cabin in the central Tennessee woods.

I’ve told some of this story before: I wanted to reclaim something of the man I had been, a man who had diminished and finally disappeared. I remembered enjoying shooting my old cameras as a teen. So I got out one I’d never used before, a Kodak Automatic 35F. I didn’t know an f stop from a shortstop, and this camera wasn’t as automatic as its name suggested. So I shot a test roll before I left. I am forever grateful to my then-self that I shot my sons around our yard. My older son, Damion, was very interested in the camera, so I set it and handed it to him. He made two photographs of me with his younger brother, Garrett. They’re terrific candid shots that remind me that there were good times for us.

Dad Garrett 2001 b

Dad Garrett 2001 c.jpg

Garrett was too little to operate the camera so I have none of Damion and me. But I did make this delightful portrait of him with our next-door neighbor’s house in the background.

Damion 2001 a

Most of the photos I took didn’t turn out well, as I truly didn’t know what I was doing. The best of the remaining shots is this one of them in our minivan. I hated that van, but love this memory.

Damion Garrett 2001 a

Mercifully and to everyone’s emotional health, the marriage ended. The next several years were hard in their own right: a protracted, brutal divorce followed by years of being broke paying the extensive legal bills and sky-high child support.

Desperate for stability and normalcy I set out to build new memories for me and my sons, to start fresh and make our way forward. One way I did that was by taking them on spring break trips every other year, the years the parenting-time guidelines gave them to me.

If you’ve read this blog for a long time you know I’ve shared photos from almost all of these trips, but never showed or wrote about my sons. While they were growing up, I kept their lives private. Instead I wrote stories about the places we visited and my experiences in them. Now, at last, let me share the reasons why these trips happened: my sons.

The first spring break was in 2005. I lived in a one-room apartment and paid the mortgage on a house I’d never live in again. That plus groceries, gas, and the electric bill consumed my paychecks. To scrape together enough money for fun, I skipped lunch and ate hot-dog dinners for weeks. We visited the zoo and the Children’s Museum, ate lunch Downtown, toured the Statehouse, and climbed to the top of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument to look out over the city. Here are the boys breaking the rules at the monument.

Indianapolis 2005

In 2007 we made an Indiana History Tour, driving all over the state to see scenic and historic sites. Here we visited the site of the Battle of Corydon, the only Civil War battle fought on Indiana soil.

Indiana History Tour 2007

In 2009 we visited Washington, DC, and drove the National Road home. It was probably our greatest trip, generating the happiest memories. Right up until the moment we wrecked our car.

Washington DC 2009

In 2011, we returned to the same woods where I’d retreated alone ten years earlier, this time with my sons to make new, better memories there. Our chief memory is of the afternoon we made a ten-mile hike carrying pint bottles of water. Wow, was that ever not enough water. I swear we each guzzled a gallon after we finally reached our cabin.

Tennessee 2011

In 2013 we drove Route 66 from Joliet, IL to almost the Texas line in Oklahoma. It was a dream trip for me, stopping for all the roadside attractions and staying at vintage motels all along the way. The boys seemed to have a good time, but today their chief memory is that “we spent the whole vacation sitting in the car!” Here the boys are in an old jail in Gardner, IL.

Route 66 2013

In 2015 we drove the old Dixie Highway down to Mammoth Cave. It was the last spring break with Damion, who graduated high school that year.

Mammoth Cave 2015.jpg

And this year Garrett and I did Cincinnati: the American Sign Museum, the zoo, the Taft Museum, the suspension bridge, Findlay Market, Jungle Jim’s.

Cincinnati 2017

There, you’ve watched my sons grow up! And I’ve relived these memories we chose to make together.

I chose not to wallow in the difficult past, but instead to move forward. To make the life I wanted, as much as I could. To be a good father to my sons and to create good memories with them.

Mission accomplished. Garrett graduated high school on Saturday.

I know from experience with my stepchildren that parenting doesn’t really end until around age 25. Our kids all need at least some parental guidance in those early young-adult years.

But it’s a new phase of life for me, of moving forward into life with my new wife. But this time I get to do it with memories intact.


These photos are © 2000-2017 Jim Grey. All rights reserved. I will not grant permission to republish them.

Advertisements
Standard
Photography, Road Trips

The harbor at Killybegs

Indulge me, if you will, a brief return to the visit to Ireland my wife and I made last year.

I follow the film-photography blog of Roy Karlsvik, who makes his living as a sailor. He shares photographs of what are to him everyday places, most of which involve harbors and ships. But it’s all pretty exotic to me, a fellow living amid the cornfields in the middle of the vast United States.

But his next itinerary includes a stop at Killybegs, Ireland, a place where Margaret and I stopped for dinner one evening last September. The harbor was right behind our restaurant, so we walked out for a few late-dusk photographs. I like them, and I even shared one before, but this gives me an excuse to share more.

It’s cool to me that Roy’s world and mine overlapped this tiny bit.

Killybegs

Killybegs

Killybegs

Killybegs

Killybegs

Standard

I didn’t know a vacation could be this good. During our two weeks in Ireland, we explored exciting places, experienced stunning beauty, and met charming family. And Margaret and I found rest for our spirits and shared an experience that would serve as a touchstone for our new marriage.

Our last day in Ireland came. As evening fell, we decided to stroll Dublin’s streets one more time.

Dublin at golden hour

The light was delicious, golden. I got out my camera.

Dublin at golden hour

We followed streets that had become familiar to us even in our few days in this city.

Dublin at golden hour

But cast in this delicious light, we saw them anew.

Dublin at golden hour

As we walked and talked, we reflected on how fortunate we had been to have been gifted this trip, and to have been able to unplug from our lives for two solid weeks. We talked of our best memories and our favorite adventures. We wished we could have just one more day.

Dublin at golden hour

But wrapping our trip on this note, in this light, was pretty terrific.

Canon PowerShot S95

Photography, Road Trips

A golden end to a golden honeymoon

Our Irish honeymoon ended on a golden evening in Dublin.

Image

The Harbour Bar, Portrush

The Harbour Bar
Nikon N2000, 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor
Kodak T-Max 400
2016

This isn’t the best ever photo of this historic bar in Portrush, Northern Ireland. But it’s a great memory of meeting fellow photoblogger Michael McNeill.

Photography, Road Trips
Image

At Carrick-a-Rede Bridge

The North Atlantic at Carrick-a-Rede
Canon PowerShot S95
2016

I’m almost done telling stories and showing photographs from our trip to Ireland. I’m feeling a little nostalgic for the stories I told of our trip just a few months ago! So here’s a photo from Carrick-a-Rede, which we saw in our first days in Ireland.

Photography, Road Trips
Image
Photography, Road Trips

Dublin in black and white

We wrapped our time in Ireland in Dublin.

A river runs through Dublin

You might think we’d start there. After all, our flight in did land at the Dublin airport. Yet we immediately boarded a train and hightailed it to Galway. It’s how Margaret wanted it, as after all that’s where her family is from! And as we looked over all the places we could visit across Ireland, places within driving distance of Galway kept edging out places in Dublin.

But we knew that at the end of our trip we knew we wouldn’t want to rush back to Dublin just to board a plane. We would want to regroup for a day or two first. So we booked a hotel in Dublin.

We had been having a truly amazing trip, with outstanding experience after outstanding experience. Our astounding luck had to run out sometime, and it did in Dublin. Nothing truly bad happened. It was merely an average time. After the fabulous experiences we’d been having, average was quite a comedown.

What’s a trip to Dublin without visiting the Guinness mother ship at St James’s Gate? It was the first thing we did. For 20 euros you can take a tour. But they don’t actually brew Guinness here anymore; the place is more like a museum now. A very noisy and crowded museum, from which you can exit only through an enormous gift shop. At least we got to pour our own Guinness as part of the tour, though it was nearly impossible to find a quiet corner to sit down and drink it. If you’re going to Dublin, pass on this.

Guinness

On our way back to the hotel we had dinner at the oldest pub in all of Ireland (or so it promoted itself). The food was great but the service was criminally slow. After 45 minutes of waiting to pay our bill, both of us seriously considering simply stiffing the joint, our waiter finally passed by. He obviously and deliberately ignored me. I had to block his way and almost force him to take my credit card.

Inside the oldest pub in Ireland

The next morning we thought we’d go see the Book of Kells at nearby Trinity College. It cost 20 euros to get in — and the mile-long line moved glacially. Worse, photography was prohibited inside. Unwilling to spend our whole morning in a queue to see something we couldn’t photograph, we walked around campus for a minute to process our disappointment and then moved on.

Trinity University

e11 proc.jpg

Unsure what to do with our day, we looked at Google Maps on our phones and saw that a large park wasn’t too far away. We decided to walk over and rest for a while. We passed through a shopping district on our way.

e13 proc.jpg

Dublin street scene

Dublin street scene

The park is called St. Stephen’s Green, and it is lovely and quiet, a sharp contrast to how we’d experienced Dublin so far. We spent hours here, walking and holding hands, talking and taking photographs. We left feeling refreshed. I’ll share some color photos I took here in an upcoming post.

e17 proc.jpg

e18 proc.jpg

St. Stephen's Green

St. Stephen's Green

St. Stephen's Green

St. Stephen's Green

It was midafternoon and our stomachs were insistently reminding us it had been too long since our last meal. We reluctantly left the park and found a pub. It had a long row of Guinness taps, and Margaret asked the bartender if she could photograph them. “Sure,” he said, “but would you rather I photographed you pouring a pint at one?” Whaaaat? Absolutely! Unfortunately, those photos are in Margaret’s camera. But it was another highlight of our Dublin stay.

The Spire in Dublin

So Dublin wasn’t a washout. We have some good memories. I’ll share a couple more in upcoming posts.

Standard