One of the unfortunate realities of life is that as we age and have families of our own we might get pulled further and further away from those with whom we grew up. Life moves us across the map and before you know it, people you used to see every week become almost strangers. To wit, after college my father moved from his home state putting over 700 miles between the family he left behind. These are the aunts and uncles I would see once, maybe twice a year, growing up. I would see this set of grandparents relatively little throughout my life and only ever at family reunions.
We would take long road trips back to the small town he grew up in and for at least a little while I would travel back in time and visit the world he came from. I really enjoyed this, even as a kid from "the big city" used to all the accoutrements of modern convenience - You know, like more than 2 TV channels.
As time goes on, and the family we visited there pass away, there becomes less and less of a reason to visit.
I'm now grown with a family of my own, including 3 small children, and we packed everybody into the most fuel efficient car my wife and I own and recently made the long trip back. The occasion was the passing of my father's step-father, a World War II vet who didn't have much but had more than enough and lived like he didn't need any more. It did not escape my notice that he was the last person living in that small town that we would have reason to visit. So, if you're keeping score, there is a better than average chance this will be my last time here.
I wasn't going to waste the opportunity.
Since my last visit I've become the de facto family photographer, as I'm sure most people who would read a photography-centric blog would be, and I intended to use that press card to pepper everybody with my shutter.
My strategy was simple - go long and try to get candids of people interacting with each other and not my lens. I threw on a 70-200mm and hung around the periphery, sneaking in a shot every now and then.
Even though the occasion was solemn, some told wonderful stories from a time fondly remembered...
...or stood in reflective thought.
Of course, you WILL be noticed and probably asked to set up some sort of portrait. "Happy to oblige."
But I got mostly candids...
The trip also gave my father and I a chance to cruise around town and reminisce. He showed me things I've seen before, but I never tire of hearing his stories and seeing the places that spark such vivid memories of his childhood.
Looking at the home my father grew up in I'm reminded how cruel and unforgiving time can be. This house is adjacent to a mechanic shop owned by my great-grandfather. It's in no better shape. As sad as it is for me to see the state of decay I wonder how it makes my father feel. In his memories this house has a fresh coat of paint.
Dad took me to the farm he spent most of his summers, indeed, the most important summers of his youth. During those summers, he earned enough money to buy his first car, a canary yellow 1966 Chevelle SS396. He would drag it up this road and here his life-long love of fast cars was born. Dad still has a healthy appetite for speed so he took this opportunity to switch his Corvette Z06 into "competitive mode" with a press of a button and launched us like a cannon ball. I quickly realized why so many of his younger memories revolve around rocketing down blacktops.
We went by his old high school. It still exists largely unchanged from those days of yesteryear. On the wall in the main hallway (actually the only hallway) stood a display with the competitive track records. Dad's record still stands over 45 years later. He often talks about track, usually in the context of how he wishes I took it more seriously while I was in school. I hope that in my later years I don't come to regret not heeding his advice. If history is any lesson where his advice is concerned, I will.
Back at the house I was able to snap a few more images. I tried to catch everyone as they are naturally. This is my father's uncle. Earlier that day he buried the last living brother he had.
Alas, not everyone ignores my big white lens. I don't care.
I hope one day my own children will appreciate where they come from and care about the people who were important to me. Being the de facto photographer, maybe I won't have to just tell them, maybe they'll be able to see for themselves.