Beautiful Photographs

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Beautiful Photographs

Alice Stead

Today, as I was procrastinating, trying to figure out what experience of beauty I wanted to write about, I thumbed through my calendar. I went through the pages, writing in important dates, when I realized that the calendar was actually a representation of a very significant experience of beauty for me.

The reason for this is because this is not an everyday calendar that you could find in a store; this is a calendar my grandma had put together for myself and my family for Christmas. It was a sort of memorandum to my grandfather, who passed away this September. He was always very adamant about getting the family together, and took pride in how close our family is. The pictures in this calendar are a representation of his success in maintaining such a close, loving family, despite whatever differences we might have. I think the beautiful thing about one's relationship with their grandparents is that they spoil you, and I don't mean in a materialistic way. I think it means that with grandparents you get to just enjoy being around them without having the difficulty of arguing over selling their house or getting proper medical care. That is the responsibility our parents take on, but we don't have to. Someday we will do this for our own parents, but until then we get to just enjoy our grandparents, and be young. Because of this, I think one's relationship with their grandparents, at least in my case, is different from any other relationship they will ever have.

My grandpa did not want a memorial service when he passed away, so this calendar was my grandma's way of giving him a small tribute. And the pictures in it are beautiful to me. Some are very old, and some are fairly recent. The part that I find so beautiful, and yet somehow bittersweet, is that they are all pictures of my grandfather when he was healthy and smiling. Another aspect I find beautiful is a pictures' ability to make me remember details about how I felt that day, like how hot the day was, or what the kitchen smelled like that day.

The front cover is a single picture of my grandfather; he has pure white hair, glasses, a plaid shirt which he probably wore while he drove his tractor around his lawn (with no purpose, he just liked the tractor), and a double chin. We must have been shucking corn because he has taken the "stringy stuff" you find on the inside and draped some over his ears and some over his upper lip to make a mustache. This is a fairly typical picture of my grandpa; he was always a ham for the camera.

January contains some pictures of my family and my grandparents, and yet another one of my grandfather with a makeshift mustache. This time he has an antler headband for a mustache. February is one of my favorite months. They are black and white photographs of my mom and my uncles when they were kids. There are pictures of my grandpa pushing my mom and uncle around in a wheelbarrow, family portraits from when my mom was about eight, and once again my grandpa driving around the tractor, this time toting around my mom and uncle around in a cart behind it. They are pictures of a happy family; their smiles are beautiful.

March is pictures of "the boys," meaning my grandpa, my Uncle Bruce, and Uncle David. In one they sit on my grandparents' back steps, one they are standing overlooking their back lawn, one is of my grandpa standing next to his new Saab and his old Saab. He had this strange affection for Saabs and he always felt the need to take cars apart and put them back together, with the help of my uncles. This didn't stop with cars; he loved to do odd jobs around the house; he was an engineer, so fixing and building things is what he loved to do. He firmly believed that apoxy could fix anything.

April makes me laugh. My grandpa was famous for his naps; he could fall asleep anywhere, whether for ten minutes or for an hour. April is the month of naps. In one photo, he is lying down on some rocks on a sunny day; it looks like one of those perfect naps where he has found a comfortable nook, and the sun covers you with warmth like a blanket. This must have been ten or fifteen years ago, because he looks much younger. Then there is a nap on a hot summer day in Colonial Williamsburg after a long day of walking. This time my brother joined him; they are at either end of the bench, fast asleep. In the last one, my grandfather sits in a chair, holding me when I was a baby; my mom plays with me as I sit on his lap and he naps.

May is full of tractors; one eerily similar to an earlier photograph, with my grandpa toting my brother, cousin, and I in the tractor around the yard. Next, my grandpa stands next to me as I learn how to drive the tractor; it took some convincing to let me on it. He was a bit old fashioned at times, and didn't think that girls should drive the tractor, but I convinced him.

June: black and white photographs of him when he was younger. Two are handsome pictures of him in his naval uniform; one is a portrait of him in his whites, and the other of him in his casual uniform on the street. He must have been in his early twenties then; the other pictures must have been taken in his late twenties or early thirties, after he got out of the navy. July: pictures of summer. Two pictures are probably from the sixties, when my mom and uncles were young. They are on vacation somewhere, on a lake. My mom is holding an oar, maybe to a canoe; my uncle is holding binoculars. My grandfather is barefoot; he looks relaxed. There are three other pictures. One was taken in Colonial Williamsburg again; I am helping my grandpa walk on stilts; he looks like he is laughing. The last two are yet another attempt at a mustache; this time he uses devil's change purses from Nantucket. August: more summer pictures. One of my grandpa and his brother in Seattle. One of my grandpa, uncle, brother, and cousin getting the tractor out of the lower part of the garage. One of him teaching me how to fish on a lake in Maine. One of him in his hat he wore when he was working outside on a hot day.

September is the month that makes me both happy and sad. There are only two pictures on the page, and I think they are probably the most beautiful pictures in the entire calendar. The first is a picture of my grandparents on their wedding day. They each have enormous smiles across their faces. My grandpa has a simple suit on and a small flower pinned to his lapel. My grandma has a plain skirt, a short, double breasted jacket with a larger flower pinned to it, white gloves, a black hat on her perfectly coifed hair, and three short strands of pearls; she is simple but elegant. They are a beautiful couple. The second picture is another picture of them on their fiftieth wedding anniversary. My grandpa wears a plaid shirt with a small yellow rose pinned to it. My grandma wears a simple floral dress with a larger yellow rose pinned to her dress. They were very devoted to each other; inseparable in fact. I do not know two people who were more in love with each other than my grandparents; this, too, I find beautiful.

In October, there are pictures of my grandpa working in his workshop in the basement. They progress from about the sixties to the mid nineties. That was his version of playing. He would build picture frames for the needle points my grandma made, or fix a part for his car. It didn't really matter what he did there, as long as he was there he was happy. November is pictures of my cousins with my grandparents. Some when my cousins were younger, some when they were all in their teens, sitting around my grandma's kitchen table for dinner. December is pictures of Christmas time both at their home and from when they came to visit us when we lived in California.

There are two pictures at the end. The first was taken in 1942; it is a picture of a basketball team. The men in the front sit with black jackets and black shorts; the men standing behind them have white jerseys on. There is a basketball in the front and a trophy. My grandpa sits third from the right; it is another picture from when he was probably in his mid twenties. It is a somewhat haunting image; it makes me wonder who the rest of the men are and where they are now. Pictures have an amazing ability to freeze time, and I feel like this picture takes me back to 1942.

The last picture was taken probably eight years ago, when I loved berets. My grandpa has put on my white beret and put on what I assume must be his "French" face, which just looks like a grumpy face. He is in a plaid shirt, once again, and is standing next to our rental car. He has drawn in the dust on the window a picture of a man peering over a wall with a big nose and whiskers. Once again, my grandpa is a ham for the camera.

Some of these pictures make me laugh out loud, some make me cry. I remember reflecting after my grandpa died about what my grandparents had given me. My dad's father shared with me his thirst with knowledge, and my mom's parents gave me the warmth in my life. So my beautiful experience is about this calendar, but more precisely about the memories associated with the pictures inside. They represent my childhood and my family history, and to me, that is beautiful.

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