Expressing My Personal Perspective through Wedding Photographs

Summer is the season for weddings. They start in May and for every weekend through the end of September, caterers, photographers, florists, musicians, DJs, and planners are booked solid. Two weekends ago, I attended, for instance, to my cousin’s daughter’s wedding and two weekends before that I went to the wedding of the daughter of a close friend.

Sometimes it’s hard to get an image of the wedding couple sharing what seems to be an intimate and private moment. They were between photos with the ‘official’ photographer, when I saw them caught up in laughter and snapped this image.

As a the daughter of a professional photographer, I spent countless weekends at weddings assisting my Dad behind the camera. (This was a big help when it came to planning my own wedding years later because by that time, I had been to and seen so many weddings that I knew exactly what I wanted to do for our own.) The routine was a bit different then. We could shoot three weddings in one day–morning, afternoon and evening– with either myself or one of my brothers finishing up at one wedding while my Dad went to start the next.

My cousin beamed with pride when he had his Father-Daughter dance at his daughter’s wedding. I had my Nikon pro camera with me that evening and good lens so I managed to snag this image of him when he turned on the dance floor with his daughter, the bride. Sometimes, it’s not all about the bride.

That era ended with photographer Dennis Reggie in 1980, who Ethel Kennedy had hired to ‘cover’ her daughter’s wedding. Reggie, a photojournalist, took the assignment and then hit the professional photography speaking circuit to show and tell professional photographers all over the country how he did it.  I attended one of these sessions and knew then that the art of wedding photography, as I had learned it from my Dad, was changing.

The mother of the groom is usually much more relaxed and available during any wedding but is sometimes overlooked n the ‘official’ documentation. I caught Sheila at a moment when no one else did.

When digital cameras were introduced, it changed yet again because photographers could capture literally thousands of images at the ceremony. They soon discovered that this wasn’t such a great idea because clients were overwhelmed by that many images. Too much of a good thing, you might say.

Wedding photographers have since trimmed it back to a more reasonable delivery but some still present as many as 1,500 images. Think of the editing process entailed in cropping, adjusting color, retouching, adding special effects and eliminating  all those images. The post-production often takes longer than the 12 hours wedding photographers now typically spend photographing the event. I’m not sure even National Geographic magazine photographers turn in that many images to their editors.

Toasting the Bride and Groom
Taken with my pocket point and shoot, I raised a glass to toast Yuliya and Yama at their wedding and took this image while I did,

While I rarely accept wedding assignments these days as a professional photographer (except for special clients and smaller ceremonies), I almost always take one of my cameras with me whenever I go to a wedding because I, like you, enjoy having a visual memory of that day, particularly when family is involved.  Usually I take my pocket point and shoot, or my bigger but compact trusty Canon (yes, I do own one Canon), instead of one of my professional Nikons. I seldom use my mobile phone to take the pictures even though some phones images are terrific. But when it comes to preserving those images in the form of prints (which I still make and encourage you to do) or printed albums or books, cameras produce the higher quality high-resolution images you need.

My friend the mother of the bride, was way to busy the day of her daughter’s wedding to stop for many photos, but I managed to get her beside the ‘cookie instead of cake’ table during the reception.

For me, the images I capture on that day are personal and often are not the same as those the ‘official’ photographer is shooting.  That’s because while the hired gun is busily photographing every moment of the bride and groom and the wedding party, I’m focusing on my family and friends who are there, and the moments that capture my eye from my point of view as a guest. It’s something you can do too but you must be mindful to respect the working pro so as not to get their way as they attempt to capture the ‘perfect’ photo of ceremonial kiss,  the cake cutting, send off or formal portrait of the bride and groom.

From my seat. I was able to get the groom, Matt, and one of the bridesmaids boogeying during the processional. Note the photographer in the background, Matt s brother, the officiant, and the mother of the bride enjoying the moment on the left. I love this scene because of its spontaneity.

There are ways to get those same images, from your own vantage point. I like to find a seat on the end of a row where, if I want to stand during the ceremony to grab a quick shot, I won’t block anyone’s view. And while the official photographer is off shooting the bride and groom immediately after the ceremony, you can zero in on the family, the cake table, the altar decorations, whatever it is that attracts your eye and you want to remember.

Ringbearer Brody stands beside the table bearing the Bible and center candle that belonged to my aunt. The table, also my late aunt’s, served as the altar at my cousin Anna’s recent wedding.

Sometimes, it turns out that the images I’ve captured are ones that my family or friends also want because unless the bride and her mother (or whoever plans and directs that day) specifically point out the family member who’s never around, the best friend who traveled across country, the arrangement or setting that has special significance, the official photographer will never know to include it in their shooting list.

My aunt and uncle with my cousin Barry at his wedding reception is a special image. Only 18 months later, my aunt passed away from complications of dementia.

As a guest and/or family member, I have a history and relationship with the people gathered for this memory-making day so I know things others won’t and that is  reflected in my photographs.

I took this of Yuliya and Yama with my compact Canon while the ‘official’ photographer was shooting on the other side. Later, I used Photoshop to improve the exposure, give it a painted appearance and heighten the romantic feel of the image.

I love today’s style of photojour-nalistic wedding photography. I also love being artistically creative with the images I take at these ceremonies. But what I really love is the memories they bring to mind of the people, places and times that are unique and meaningful to me and my family.  And that’s essentially what wedding photography, whether from a hired pro or personal photographer such as myself, should be.

Fourths Full of Fireworks, Family and Friends

This morning was quiet when I awoke.  The stillness wouldn’t be that unusual for a holiday morning except for the fact that this was the Fourth of July, the U.S. day to celebrate its independence. When I was a kid, that meant starting the day off with a bang, literally, as my brother and I hopped out of our bed, threw on some clothes and raced outdoors to light what would be the first of many firecrackers that day.

My son, Marshall, ready to celebrate with his string of Black Cats.

Times have changed as setting off individual fireworks have been banned in many communities, such as my own, leaving it to the pro pyrotechnicians to provide a choreographed aerial night display. For the most part, it’s a good thing although I do miss seeing kids faces light up as they swirl the glowing wands of sparklers. And I loved the ground fountains that burst up with sizzling flares of color.

But the silence of the morning made me think of all those wonderful Fourth of July holidays past here in Bellingham.

A fireworks show on the front yard of our house.

I smiled remembering nights when my own middle-school aged sons gathered up their collection of fireworks, call us all out to the street in front of our home and set them off to their own choreographed show, complete with patriotic music blasted from a boom box that had been turned up to full volume.

Then there was the family barbeques at our friends’ home who lived then on a local lake.

The kids line up for hot dogs right off the grill.

Food was plentiful, with everyone bringing baked beans, deviled eggs, hot dogs and hamburgers, salads, pies, cookies and ice cream, all pretty much considered to be ‘traditional’ American Independence Day favorites.  Moms and Dads would talk and drink beer while we watched the kids leap off the end of the dock into the still chilly lake water. A few others would hop into the kayak and paddle a short distance out from the shore where they would still be within sight of parental eyes.

The kids take a break from swimming and kayaking to eat a Fourth of July picnic.

And then, of course, as night began to fall (nearly 10 p.m. here in the Pacific Northwest), the homemade fireworks show would start with the explosions from Roman candles being directed out over the water.  When it was over, we bundled up the leftovers and our sleepy-eyed kids and headed home.

Firing off the Roman candles from the dock.

Later, when our friends moved to a home on the bay, we did the same thing sitting on the beach, watching the sun sink as he dug into the delicious apple and cherry pies that had been baked especially for the occasion. Of course, we always had a fire going so that we could make s’mores–those wonderfully gooey treat of melted chocolate and toasted marshmallow squeezed between two layers of graham crackers. And the fire also kept us warm because Fourth of Julys here can be chilly, if not rainy.

A festive pie for the Fourth of July.

I recalled the more recent holidays when our sons, now grown, were not home to celebrate or, if they were, preferred to head off with friends to watch fireworks than join the ‘old folks.’ One memorable Fourth was spent out on a boat in the bay enjoying the company of friends from the annual summer music festival and viewing that night’s light show from the water. Quite an experience. Still another found us sitting nearly directly beneath the big blast over the harbor as we sat with another couple on the terrace of a shore side restaurant, savoring the food served up for the special evening while overhead the ‘bombs’ were bursting in air.

The Fourth of July on the boat in the bay gave us a spectacular view of the fireworks show that night.

More recently, we’ve headed over to a friend’s home late in the day for a potluck on their deck.  After dessert, we settle into one of their patio chairs, usually with a blanket close at hand, and wait and watch for the big fireworks spectacle, sponsored here for years by one of our local markets. They have an excellent vantage point from which we can see it all, including the show also being staged in nearby Blaine, just up the coast and the individual efforts from the Lummi Nation across the bay.

Happy Fourth of July. Long may our Star Spangled banner wave.

While the colorful aerial pyrotechnics are fun to watch, it’s mostly the company of the friends and family we are with that really make the evenings fun and memorable. It’s that feeling of fellowship, of sharing a special day with people special to you, some who you may only see on this day once a year. And that’s what I remember most about this holiday. I hope your Fourth of July is equally as memorable and as full of family and friends as it is of fireworks.

The Last Game

When we moved to the Pacific Northwest from Los Angeles nearly 21 years ago, we were Kings hockey fans. We became hockey fans when the great Wayne Gretzky took the city by storm and turned Los Angeles into a hockey town. But with the move north, we soon started attending the games in Vancouver, B.C., just 45 miles across the border and soon traded our Kings sweaters for Canucks colors.

At the time, we had three little boys, one of whom was already playing hockey and a second who began not long after we relocate. Travelling to Vancouver for a hockey game became a special family outing. The boys quickly memorized the names of all the players and, in the case of my oldest son, even recognized the referees.

Together with two of my sons who, like me, became Canucks fans at one of the games we attended together.

Gradually, we learned the best route into downtown Vancouver where the arena is located, the places to eat before or after the game if we didn’t want stadium food, the time to leave to insure we arrived in time for the first face-off, and, most importantly, where we could park the car for without paying a hefty $20 to $30 lot fees near the arena. For a while, we took the Sky Train in and out. And after the Olympics in 2010, the adjacent neighborhoods changed bringing new restaurants, shops and traffic patterns, especially around the Olympic Village which completely revived that decaying area.

A pair of our tickets from this year’s season. Will miss our seats.

It wasn’t long before we bought season tickets located in the upper level, attacking end of the ice near the gate and up high enough so that the protective netting above the glass didn’t interfere with my camera angle. I became pretty adept at shooting the action on the ice from far away with my point-and-shoot cameras because cameras with removable lens aren’t allowed inside. One of my best shots was the one when Alex Burrows fired a game winning goal in overtime past the shoulder of the Chicago Blackhawks goalie to cinch the play-offs for the Canucks and send them to the Stanley Cup finals.

I captured the winning shot by Alex Burrows that sent the Canucks into the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011.

There are other memories as well.  Like the New Year’s Eve we took the boys for the then traditional game against Philadelphia and stayed overnight in the Vancouver Hotel. The next morning, the boys and I snuck into one of the hotel’s ballrooms where a party from the night before was still strewn with discarded party hats that we then put on our own heads and danced around. Or the year that my youngest son’s hockey team got to come out on the ice during the first period break and play a quick ten-minute game for the home crowd. After the Canucks game, they were escorted down to the locker room waiting area where they met Matt Cook, then a rookie, who signed autographs for them. My son later had Cook’s name stamped on his Canuck’s jersey. Cook was later traded but has since retired back to Vancouver.

I won’t forget the first time the Sedin twins skated onto the ice making their NHL debut. They’re now the ‘old men’ on the team but still dominating.

Of course, we won’t forget the first time that the Sedin twins from Sweden—Henrik and Daniel—first skated onto the ice to join the team. They were only 17 and celebrated their 18th birthday with a crowd of 18,000. The Sedins are now 36 and Henrik, who’s currently Captain, is the team’s all-time leading scorer.

We were there for the retirement of Markus Naslund’s number but missed the raising of Trevor Linden’s banner due to an ice storm. Our Vancouver friends got our tickets instead.

The 2016-17 season opening night line-up. In recent years, the Canucks games have become known for their production quality.

Then there are the not-so-great memories like the terrible incident with Todd Bertuzzi in 2004 who assaulted an opposing player whose injuries ended his career and Bertuzzi’s too with the Canucks. And Manny Maholtra who fans loved and who unfortunately received a serious injury to his left eye from a puck and lost significant vision. He’s now back as a Development Coach with the Canucks.

My son, Marshall, studies the game whenever he goes to see the Canucks. One reason he probably became such a good player himself.

There are memories too of the crowd cheering “LOOOOOOOOU” for goalie Roberto Luongo and the standing ovation the fans gave him upon returning from the Canadian Olympic Gold Medal win in 2010. Memorable too was the moment of silence our Canadian friends respectfully paid to the U.S. when the season opened after ‘9-11.’  The sympathy we received from our seatmates who knew we drove up for the games from the States was touching and overwhelming. And the friendship we developed over the years with Terri and son, Calum, who sometimes meet us for dinner, join us for a game or take our tickets when there’s a game we must miss.

Waving white hand towels, as my son demonstrates here, is a play-off game tradition that began with the Canucks.

We were there for the start of traditions such as twirling white hand towels above your head during play-off games. Or laughing at the antics of the ‘green men’, covered head to toe in green skin-tight body suits. Or watching the giant Orca blimp bob high around the arena dropping prizes to fans below until one night the remote-controlled balloon dive-bombed the crowd and lost its job.

Only once did we catch one of the T-shirts propelled by an air gun into the stands by Fin, the team’s Orca mascot. Once was I caught momentarily on the big screen when the camera turned on to our section. Never did we win the 50-50 cash raffle benefitting Canucks Place, the team’s charity for critically ill children. Never did Fin stick our head into its giant tooth-lined mouth as it did with other fans although I managed to snag a photo with the oversized Orca once during a period break.

During a period break, Fin managed to snag a photo with me!

The memories will continue but the season tickets will not. At least not for now. Last night was our last game as a season ticket holder. Forty games a season is just too many for us to make with our sons no longer around to The league also has changed the scheduling so that the Canucks, who must travel further than any other NHL team, are away for long stretches then back home to play games almost back-to-back. That much back and forth for us to Vancouver is more than we can fit into our already busy lives right now.

So as much as we hate giving up those great seats, we’re not taking them again next year. We’ll still go to games to cheer on our Canucks. But won’t be there as often and may not be sitting in ‘our’ seats. For us, it’s the end of a season and the end of an era. It’s been fun. Thanks Canucks!

The last game of the season marked the end of an era for my family.

 

Vacation 1953

While sorting through some old photos yesterday, I came across a group of faded black and white 3×3 snapshots. They were photos I didn’t recall seeing before. I decided that they must had belonged to my aunt Imogene. I’m not certain how I ended up with them but they were tucked into an envelope with other, unrelated family photos.

Except for one, their reverse sides were blank. But on that one, in my aunt Imogene’s handwriting was the note: 1953 Vacation going to Bandon, Or., pictures taken at Colo. Springs Colo.  That was it.

The group passed through Dodge City, apparently, where they visited the legendary Boot Hill.

I looked more closely. I recognized my aunts Lavetta, Oleta and her husband, Joe, Imogene and her husband, Jim, and my uncle Austin.  In 1953, they would have been in their 30s and late 20s. Uncle Austin might have just been back from the Korean War, as was my Uncle Joe who had already served in World War II. I am not certain that my aunt Lavetta was married yet. Were they traveling out to attend my aunt Phyllis’ wedding in Bandon, I wondered? Bandon was where my Grandma had moved after leaving Missouri where all her children were born and grew up.

Where did they stop for this picnic? Was it lunch or dinner? Why the ketchup bottle?

How special to look back at the aunts and uncles I knew and loved. They were so young, so unaware of what was yet to come in life, having so much fun in these photos. The photos of them picnicking especially drew me in.  They sat together lunching, I’d guess, at a tablecloth-covered picnic table, drinking bottles of Coca-Cola and eating fried chicken. If they were travelling, the chicken was probably cold. A bottle of ketchup stood square in the middle of table. Did they have french fries too? I would have guessed that had potato salad but ketchup didn’t fit.

After the picnic, they took time to relax before hitting the road or at the end of their day?

I love looking at my aunts dressed in their short-sleeved cotton camp shirts tucked neatly into Capri pants. And I studied the shoes that they had kicked off to relax on a blanket that had been tossed on the grass after the picnic. They seemed in no hurry to get to their Oregon destination in these pictures.

Before boarding the funicular to ride to the top for a view of the Royal Gorge, my aunts and uncle stop for a photo.

They took time to go up the funicular at the Royal Gorge, or so it appears from one of the photos.  It looks as if they stopped at the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, a 35,000-acre preserve in South Dakota where the photo of their backsides was made as they stood reading the preserve’s marker. Maybe that’s where the photo of the two married couples on the trip standing in an otherwise nondescript country was taken.

The small portion of the sign on the wall told me that my aunts and uncles had stopped at the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve on their drive to Bandon.

I studied the photos, trying to glean a story about their trip from them. As I did, I thought of my mother who, after retiring, spent a good portion of her time putting our family’s photos into albums and labelling many of them. It made me think why it is we take photos such as these on our various travels and what they bring and tell us when, years afterwards, we go back to look and remember those sojourns. In this case, I had only the photos from which to construct a story. How I would have liked to have asked them questions about that trip had I known about it before finding these visual memories.

Where was this taken? There’s no clue to tell me. But I laughed at the matching pants worn by my aunts.

My aunt’s photos made me think of my own travel photos and why I take photographs when I travel. Will my photos one day be discovered for someone else to enjoy, to relive the moment I did, to wonder how I felt, where I was going, what I did? More than just a testament that ‘I was there’, photographs like these found on a rainy Saturday  can take you back in time, can cause you to revisit the day, to remember the people you love, the places they went and the fun they shared.

A Recipe to Remember Made with Pecans and Love

Americans celebrate Thanksgiving holiday this week by gathering with family and friends around tables set for a meal full of family favorites and traditional foods. The menu typically includes a turkey, cranberries and pie. The pie, considered to be the most traditional American dessert,  is usually pumpkin, apple or pecan.

My mother was the principal pie maker at our house: banana cream, lemon meringue, cherry, apple, rhubarb, pecan and, of course, pumpkin at Thanksgiving. When my mother’s dementia became so advanced that she could no longer live at home with my father, she moved to a care home. That left my father at home alone and without her there, he became the pie maker.  I remembered this the other day when I pulled out a package of pecans to chop and add to a batch of pumpkin pancakes.

My Dad didn't know I'd caught him taking a taste of the filling he'd just stirred up.
My Dad didn’t know I’d caught him taking a taste of the filling he’d just stirred up.

My Dad loved to stop on the drive between my hometown and a neighboring town to pick up bags of pecans, freshly picked from the nearby grove. He’d freeze the shelled nuts in plastic storage bags for later keeping out just enough for the pies that he planned to make for Thanksgiving.  I was home one year when he was baking his pecan pies for the upcoming holiday dinner.

“You don’t know how to make a pecan pie?” he said surprised when I admitted that I had never made one.  “Oh, it’s easy,” he said confidently.

He assembled his ingredients from the shelves in my parents small kitchen–corn syrup, sugar, vanilla, eggs, and of course the pecans. One by one he poured each amount into plastic measuring cups then stirred the filling together in the large green Pyrex mixing bowl. He took the two pie shells that I had bought at the store earlier out of their packages and set them next to the bowl of filling.

With a pile of pecans handy, my Dad begins the process of placing the nuts atop the uncooked pie.
With a pile of pecans handy, my Dad begins the process of placing the nuts atop the uncooked pie.

My mother always made her crusts from scratch. She wouldn’t have approved of the pre-made crusts. Her crusts were light and flaky because, as she explained, she avoided handling the dough as much as possible. As a kid, I watched many times as she gathered the crumbly flour and shortening mixture into a small ball wetting it lightly with tablespoons of water so that it would adhere. She’d lift it carefully onto the big wooden cutting board and gently pass her red-handled rolling-pin over and over it until she had flattened it into a circle. Then again, ever so gingerly, she eased it into the waiting glass pie pan that had been greased so it wouldn’t stick when baked.pie-man015

For my Dad, the store-bought crusts were fine. Easier and less mess, he thought. And they came with their own aluminum foil pans which my Dad thought were great.  I found this was funny given how much he took pride in his pies.

After scooping the soupy butterscotch-colored filling into the pie crusts he began putting on the final touches.  One by one, my Dad delicately laid pecan after pecan around the perimeter of the pie top with his thick, aged fingers, until the entire pie was covered with floating pecans. He placed each piece precisely and with love. Now to transfer the unbaked pies onto the cookie sheets, being careful not to slop any of the contents in the process. Mindfully, my Dad slid each sheet into the heated oven.

The last step--transferring the pies from the countertop to the oven.
The last step–transferring the pies from the countertop to the oven.

“See, simple,” my Dad said once the pies were safely on the oven rack.  It was a pie-baking lesson I’ve never forgotten. This was more than simple; this was precious time spent with my Dad, in the last years of his life, creating a fond memory that I now think of gratefully especially as Thanksgiving approaches.

I hope that as you sit down with your family and friends that you too will recall memories like my own to bring you joy, laughter, tears, love and most of all gratitude.

My Dad's pecan pies sit ready to bake in the hot oven. Each one was made with love.
My Dad’s pecan pies sit ready to bake in the hot oven. Each one was handmade with love.

 

A Veteran Who Voted

I only remember seeing my Dad cry twice.  Once was at the funeral of my Mother, to whom he was married 65 years.  The other was when he stood with my son and I at the American cemetery at Anzio, Italy.

When my Dad was 80-years-old, I took him, along my oldest son, Matthew, then 14-years-old, and my cousin, Claudette, on a trip to Italy. It was the first time my Dad had returned to Italy since there as a young, 22-year-old American GI. That trip was no pleasure visit and came right at the height of the Italian campaign of World War II.

We visit the cemetery at Monte Cassino where some of those who fought there, like my Dad, are buried.
We visit the cemetery at Monte Cassino where some of those who fought there, like my Dad, are buried.

My Dad’s first stop was in Sicily when the 5th Army and his 45th Division invaded that large island. Next came Salerno and Paestum.  Soldiers climbed down the sides of the ships carrying the troops into the landing craft that would ferry them to the beaches just south of Salerno. Regarded as the D-Day invasion of Italy, my Dad once recalled how scary it was to climb down the rope nets into the boats bobbing below. He never talked about how terrified he must have been bouncing across the water, knowing what was to come once the gate of the landing craft dropped, exposing him and his men to heavy enemy fire from on shore. The Allies lost 2,009  soldiers at Salerno, another 7,050 were wounded and 3,501 missing.  He would make one more landing after Salerno, at the invasion of Southern France.  I can’t imagine how he did it.

Rows upon rows of white crosses at Anzio mark the graves of Americans who fell during the Italian campaign of World War II.
Rows upon rows of white crosses at Anzio mark the graves of Americans who fell during the Italian campaign of World War II.

During his trip back to Italy, the one thing my Dad wanted to do was to visit the “American cemetery.” After stopping at cemeteries in Salerno and Monte Cassino, we learned that the American fallen were buried at Anzio. We added Anzio to the itinerary.

My Dad explains to my son how the Battle of Anzio took place as they view the giant map on the memorial wall at the Anzio cemetery.
My Dad explains to my son how the Battle of Anzio took place as they view the giant map on the memorial wall at the Anzio cemetery.

We rented a car and drove from Rome to Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, near the beachhead where the Battle of Anzio took place. There are 7,800 buried here, another 3,100 names are listed on the Wall of the Missing.  On the way in, we stopped at the office where a caretaker on duty gave us a pamphlet and told my Dad where he could find the grave of a friend’s uncle who had been killed when parachuting into the battle.

Together, we walked through the rows and rows of white markers. My Dad stood silently and shook his head. “I’ve never understood,” he said, “why I came home and they didn’t.” Tears rolled down his cheek.  He turned away and walked off, my son followed. They paused, long enough for me to capture a photo, in one of the rows while my Dad tried to regain his composure.

My son and my Dad share a quiet moment together in the cemetery at Anzio.
My son and my Dad share a quiet moment together in the cemetery at Anzio.

Veteran’s Day in this country is November 11. This year, it is preceded by Election Day on November 8. My Dad’s birthday is November 21.  My Dad passed away two years ago. If he were still alive, I am sure he would be disgusted by the campaigns being waged this election. But he would vote.  He would vote not only because he deeply believed it was his patriotic duty, just as serving his country in World War II was, but also for all those who didn’t return from the War as he did.

No matter your political persuasions, I hope you’ll vote this Election Day. If not for yourself, for my Dad and all those who gave their lives like those buried at Anzio, who we honor on Veteran’s Day for they are the true ‘silent majority.’

My Dad stands beside one of the graves of the thousands buried at the American cemetery in Anzio.
My Dad stands beside one of the graves of the thousands buried at the American cemetery in Anzio.

Read more about my Dad’s service record here, written by my brother Brad, and create a page for your own service member. I’ve also written about my Dad’s military service in previous blog postings. You can click on the following links to read those in case you missed them: http://bit.ly/2edw57z and http://bit.ly/2eCZyGu.

 

 

A Swedish Birthday Surprise, Relatively Speaking

Birthday surprises usually come in the form of parties or gifts. I’ve received both. But last year for my birthday, I was surprised to learn about a new relative.  And fortunately, it came as a welcomed surprise.

The news arrived not with someone standing on my door, but in the form of a large mailing envelope sent from Sweden. I immediately recognized the return address as that of Bo, cousin to my aunt Marie who was married to my father’s brother, Dale. I’ve known Bo nearly my entire life. His family and my own have become like extended family. I spend time with them whenever I go to Sweden, as I did earlier this summer.

When I opened the envelope from Bo, I expected to find a birthday card, but was surprised to find much more.  Inside was a letter that read:  “As you are very like Pippi Longstocking in many ways there is some connection to her in you I must say…As the author Astrid Lindgren who wrote the book is a kind of relative to your mother.” Along with the letter was a family tree linking my mother to the Swedish author as a fourth cousin.  My mother’s fourth cousin?

The books of Astrid LIndgren on display here in a shop window in Vimmerby have been translated into 70 languages.
The books of Astrid LIndgren on display here in a shop window in Vimmerby have been translated into 70 languages.

What a discovery! Astrid Lindgren is one of Sweden’s most treasured authors. Her books about the freckled-faced, pig-tailed girl, Pippi Longstocking, has become a children’s classic throughout the world. Her books have been translated into 70 languages and made into several films and television series. There is even an Astrid Lindgren’s World, a children’s theme park and a popular family destination located outside Lindgren’s hometown of Vimmerby.

Families leave Astrid Lindgrens World after a day at the popular theme park.
Families leave Astrid Lindgrens World after a day at the popular theme park.

Lindgren herself was honored last year when her picture was placed on the 20 Swedish kronor, replacing that of another beloved Swedish children’s writer, Selma Lagerlöf. Bo had enclosed one of the freshly printed bills inside my letter. In addition, Lindgren and the characters from her books became the subject of a set of shiny silver commemorative coins.  One of these, along with the folder with spots for the other coins, I also found in Bo’s package. I want to collect the entire set.

Children's author Lindgren was honored in 2015 when her picture was placed onto the Swedish kronor. There is also a commemorative coin set.
Children’s author Lindgren was honored in 2015 when her picture was placed onto the Swedish kronor. There is also a commemorative coin set.

Having learned about my Lindgren connection, I of course made it a priority on my recent trip, to visit Lindgren’s hometown of Vimmerby where she was born, where she is buried and where Pippi’s adventures are set. It was a part of my trip to which I was most looking forward.

I drove into Vimmerby mid-afternoon on a Saturday. It was only a 48 minute drive inland from Vastervik, where my husband and I had disembarked from the Gotland ferry. The shops in Vimmerby’s town square had closed at two o’clock. I would not buy any Pippi Longstocking souvenirs to carry home. We strolled into the charming square, empty except for a handful of visitors like ourselves.

Play strutures like this child-size cottage sit in Vimmerby's town square for children to explore.
Play structures like this child-size cottage sit in Vimmerby’s town square for children to explore.

At one end of the square sat the old, mustard-colored Town Hall and opposite is a lovely hotel with patio tables on the porch.  In the center of the square, near the hotel, are several small play structures taken from Lindgren’s books:  a sailing ship,a cottage, Kindergarten-sized children were crawling in and out and climbing up and down in delight.

I meet Astrid LIndgren's lifestize sculpture which sits in he hometown of Vimmberby, Sweden.
I meet Astrid Lindgren’s life-size sculpture which sits in he hometown of Vimmerby, Sweden.

On the other side of the square, nearer the Town Hall, is a life-size sculpture of my famous cousin sitting at desk with a typewriter. It felt a little odd to meet my newly found relative in this way, but was quite an honor at the same time.

I next sought out her resting place in the neatly kept, hilltop cemetery. Thanks to some local residents, I found her gravestone, alongside that of her parents and sister. It was a simple stone for such a celebrated figure, quite humble and unassuming. I wondered if it reflected her personality in life.

The famous author's grave stone is a simple stone in the Vimmerby cemetery.
The famous author’s grave stone is a simple stone in the Vimmerby cemetery.

As we walked back through the streets of Vimmerby we noted the spots where Pippi and her sidekick, Tommy, had their adventures. Then we headed out to the Lindgren family home, where Astrid was born and lived as a child. The little house is located on a farm known as Näs in Vimmerby.  It stands exactly as it was when Astrid grew up there, having been restored by Lindgren herself. Tours of the house are available almost daily except when closed for the winter from mid-December until March. Unfortunately, we arrived after hours. Had someone been around I might have told them that I was a ‘cousin’ from the U.S., in hopes that they would take pity on me and allow me inside.

In the Exjoibit Jaöö. Lindgrenäs life and achivements are presented for visitors.
In the exhibit hall. Lindgren’s life and achievements are presented for visitors.

Also on the property, owned by the city of Vimmerby, stands a modern glass-walled exhibition hall where her life and achievements are displayed. But again, we were too late and unable to go in. I was disappointed but until only a year ago, I didn’t even know that the woman remembered here was even remotely related to me. Now that I do, I will return the next trip to see both the house and the museum.

Back in Stockholm, three long, large banners hung down from the city’s concert hall.  On two of the red banners were the words: Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award with the name and image of the winning author—Meg Rosoff—printed on the center banner. The award is presented annually to presented to authors, illustrators, oral storytellers and reading promoters to honor her memory and promote interest in children’s and young adult literature. It is the largest such literature award in the world.

Banners of this year's Astird Lindgren Memorial Aware stream down in Stockolm's Concert Hall.
Banners of this year’s Astrid Lindgren Memorial Aware stream down in Stockholm’s Concert Hall.

Lindgren’s apartment  in Stockholm where she lived for 61 years, is also open for tours but reservations must be made in advance. Even though we were unable to secure reservations, Bo accompanied me to apartment. The apartment itself looks out over a large park, Vasa Park, bustling with children. Lindgren would be pleased, I’m sure, to hear their gleeful shrieks and young laughter outside her window.

Next time I visit Sweden, I will return to these places for an inside tour. For now, however, I have the commemorative coins Bo sent to me and the 20 kronor bills that I collected and carried home to share with my family. How many people can say that their cousin appears on their national money? What a birthday surprise that was!

 

Going Back to Gotland

Relatively few Americans can trace their family’s history, even though the U.S. is a nation of immigrants. Even fewer know exactly the place where their ancestors lived before leaving for this country. And, I’ll wager, even fewer have ever been to visit that spot.  I’m one of the fortunate who have.

Even within my own family, only three of us (so far) on my mother’s side, have made the journey “home;”  myself, my mother and my aunt Hazel.  And we know our family from my great-grandfather’s side who remain in the ‘old country’ although we were lucky to find them.

My aunt points to my great grandfather's name written in the registry at the House of Emigrants in Sweden.
My aunt points to my great grandfather’s name written in the registry at the House of Emigrants in Sweden.

Until 1970, we had no idea that my mother’s family still had relatives living in Sweden. We only learned this after considerable sleuthing by Bo (see last week’s blog post), who helped us track down my mother’s Swedish family history. We knew from Bo who located the records of embarkation stored in Växjo, Smaland at the Utvandranus Hus (House of Emigrants) that my great-grandfather, Johannes Frederick, had come from Anga on the Swedish island of Gotland.  There he had been a ‘crofter’ or someone who had worked the land for the farm owner.

With this information, Bo set out to find the family on Gotland. He eventually found the farm in Anga where my great-grandfather had lived through a death registry at the ‘county’ archives in Visby. There was listed someone with my family name who had had a brother living in the U.S.  He then turned to a record book with the names of those who had owned farms in the area.  This led him to the farm in Anga. But finding the rest of the family wasn’t as easy.

My parents visited the farm in Anga during their trip to Gotland and met the farmer and his wife who lived there. My mother's cousin Bengt, left on steps and his son, Sivert, seated, joined them.
My parents visited the farm in Anga during their trip to Gotland and met the farmer and his wife who lived there. My mother stands opposite her cousin Bengt, left on steps and his son, Sivert, seated, joined them with the couple who own the farm at the top.

Somewhere along the way, my great-grandfather’s brother’s family (following?) had changed their last name. The reasons for this, so the story goes, is either because they were embarrassed by a family member who had been a Lutheran priest in Dalhem, Gotland, and who was known to imbibe a bit too much of the communion wine or, depending upon who you believe, a family member, Johannes Frederick’s brother perhaps, got into a little trouble with the law (possibly during the prohibition era in the United States). We’re a little hazy on the details. But the end result was that Johannes Frederick’s brother changed his last name. It wasn’t until Bo discovered this that he located the other side of my family still living right there in Gotland!

My mother and her cousin, Dorothy, who was, at the time, researching the family history were ‘thrilled’ that Bo had found our relatives.  As my mother wrote to Bo in 1970: “We realize that we are fortunate in having you do our research as I don’t think anyone else would have been able to find them. I have a sister living in Arizona who is planning a trip to Sweden next year so she is more than happy to receive all the information as she will, no doubt, visit them.”

My aunt Hazel, left, meets her Swedish cousin Bengt for the first time as Bengt's son, Sivert, translates for them.
My aunt Hazel, left, meets her Swedish cousin Bengt for the first time as Bengt’s son, Sivert, translates for them.

As it turned out, my aunt Hazel, to whom my mother referred, wasn’t able to go on the trip in 1971 with her cousin Dorothy. So it was Dorothy who was the first to meet her cousin, Bengt, and his son, Sivert.  Hazel finally met the family 1991 when she and I went together on our first visit to Sweden. (Click the link here for that story.)

Meeting the family in Gotland was something I’ll never forget.  Sivert and Bengt greeted us at the airport, then we drove us to his father’s home where we met his wife.  My aunt sat next to Bengt on the sofa, who sat next to Sivert who was translating as Bengt spoke limited English as neither of us spoke any Swedish at the time. (I have since learned the language.) Chills shot up back as Bengt began to speak. I couldn’t believe it.  I recognized that voice. I had heard it before even though I had never met Bengt. Bengt’s tone was the same as that of my own grandfather, who had died when I was only three but who had lived the last days of his life with my parents. His voice had obviously stuck with me and now, more than 30 years later, was giving rise to a memory long forgotten.

This summer, Sivert and I returned to the farm in Anga where we took a photo beside the cottage where my great grandfather had lived.
This summer, Sivert and I returned to the farm in Anga where we took a photo beside the cottage where my great grandfather had lived.

Since that first meeting, I have returned to Gotland three times. I have visited the farm where my great grandfather lived and worked before leaving for the U.S. and met the farmer and his wife who now own it. My parents too travelled there in 1993 and also drove from Visby, where my cousin Sivert lives, to Anga.  One of my three sons has also visited Gotland with me and stood beside the cottage where my great grandfather had lived. Most recently, my husband accompanied me on a trip there. Going to Gotland feels like going home. I guess, in a way, because it is.

My cousin Sivert's daughter and I cool off in the Baltic Sea. Connecting our children, the next generation, is important to both Sivert and myself.
My cousin Sivert’s daughter and I cool off in the Baltic Sea. Connecting our children, the next generation, is important to both Sivert and myself.

My cousin and I have become, well, cousins. We keep in touch. We know each other’s families (he has visited the U.S. twice), exchange Christmas cards, shared the loss when both our parents, Hazel, cousin Dorothy and other members of our family died just as we will share the happiness when his daughter, Natalie, soon marries. As Sivert says, we both want our sons and daughter to know one another; to know that they have family who, although separate by a great distance, aren’t really that far apart at all.

 

 

A Father’s Day at Fagerdal

My Father’s Day arrived a two weeks early this year while I was in Sweden visiting family and friends.

This was my first trip there in ten years and I wanted to return to some of the places where my great grandparents had lived before emigrating to the United States in 1868. Americans rarely know much, if anything, about their ancestors from the ‘old country’, let alone know exactly where the family resided before packing up and moving to America.  I am one of the fortunate who do.

About 30 years ago, my family learned from my mother’s cousin (with help from Bo, the Swedish cousin of my aunt by marriage), that my maternal great grandmother who had left for the States as a child with her family had lived in Småland. The family dwelled in the Swedish province of Småland on a beautiful, but rocky, piece of land near a lake. They were contracted for 49 years to the farmer who owned property.  It was, as the man who currently owns the farm explained: “a very bad contract.”

You can see the wooden fence that ran along the familyäs property in this photocopy of the original photo. My great grandmother's family was contracted to work the land for the farmer for 49 years.
You can see the wooden fence that ran along the familyäs property in this photocopy of the original photo. My great grandmother’s family was contracted to work the land for the farmer for 49 years.

Like so many others at the time, the family fell on hard times when a famine hit the country. Nearly 100,000 Swedes emigrated to the U.S. between 1868 and 1873. My great- grandmother was among them. My great-grandmother, in a letter written when she was 70 to the family ‘back home’ wished she could return and see her old home once more. But as she was 70, she never made the trip. (Click here to read more about this in my blog post of May, 2015.)

My great grandmother's family from Sweden. My great grandmother is one of the two little girls standing on either end but I can never remember exactly which one she is.
My great grandmother’s family from Sweden. My great grandmother is one of the two little girls standing on either end but I can never remember exactly which one she is.

Instead, my aunt, Hazel, and I made the trip for her, visiting the ‘homeland’ together in 1991. We went with Bo to the farm in Småland at a tiny spot known as Fagerdal. It was an emotional visit as we walked around what was left of the foundation of the farmhouse and explored the nearby root cellar. My aunt recalled stories her grandmother had told about being a little girl there. Then Bo beckoned us over to a juniper bush and upon parting the branches, revealed to us the stationary paper-sized copper sign attached to a post. The inscription, in Swedish, commemorated the fact that my great-grandmother’s family had lived there from 1853 to 1867.  Tears welled in both our eyes as we read the words.

Two years later, my mother and father travelled to Sweden to visit the family, as my aunt and I had done. They too drove with Bo to Fagerdal where they met the farmer and his mother living there and went down to the pasture to see where the house had once stood and to view the sign in the juniper bush.

Our family friend, Bo, made a map for me to follow to Fagerdal when he was unable to make the trip with us.
Our family friend, Bo, made a map for me to follow to Fagerdal when he was unable to make the trip with us.

On this trip, I journeyed alone to Fagerdal with my husband. Bo was unable to join us but he had mapped out the route for me and written instructions as to how to find the place. I hoped to see once more that farmstead in the field and the sign that had so moved me 25 years previously.

We turned off the highway just outside Åtivdaberg and headed south on a two lane, well-paved country road.  Although early evening, we had a few hours of daylight left as the summer season is one of very long days in Sweden. The countryside was lush and particularly verdant in the late day golden light. It was difficult to imagine that this area at one time had suffered such a famine that families had to leave in order to feed their children.

Our rental car had a GPS to help guide our way, but Fagerdal is such a small spot (if not just the name for the farms there), that it didn’t even appear on the electronic map. As we drew closer, I stopped at a ‘sommar stuga’, or summer cottage to ask if we were on the right track. We were. After asking for directions twice more, and pointing to the map that Bo had made, we arrived at a cluster of farm buildings sitting at the end of a drive at the top of a hill. An elderly woman shuffled in the yard apparently checking on her flower garden when I hopped out of the car with my map.

The current farmer and his mother, shown here, were warm and welcoming. She invited us for kaffe.
The current farmer and his mother, shown here, were warm and welcoming. She invited us for kaffe.

She spoke no English. I did my best to explain to her in Swedish why I had pulled unannounced into her drive. The woman had a sweet smile and kind eyes but she couldn’t understand my request. She called to “Stefan,” within the house and in moments her son, a man about my own age, appeared. He spoke some English so between my Swedish and his English he figured out my reason for the unexpected visit and offered to take us down to the field. I was ecstatic.

I stand on the stones where my grandmother's family home once was.
I stand on the stones where my grandmother’s family home once was.

We followed him in the car along a rutted road down to the place where I had been so many years before. Together we walked up the little hill to the spot where the house had been and over to where the stone walls of the root cellar were still intact although now a tree was growing up from the center. Then I looked for the sign, the thing I had hoped to see once again. The farmer knew it, had seen it but search as we did, we could not find it. He was mystified and couldn’t understand why it was not in the bushes, now grown into small trees.  We walked all around the area, looking in the tall grass in case it had fallen or been dragged off by the cattle who had grazed there. Perhaps, the farmer ventured, someone had taken it. Taken it? Why? How? Where? These were questions to which he, nor I, had any answers. As disappointed as I was, I was nonetheless thrilled to stand once more at the place where my great-grandmother had been as a child. Tears again came into my eyes.  As much as I would have liked to have stayed longer, dusk was settling in and we had further to go that evening.

The stone walls of the root cellar remain intact where the family stored their vegetables.
The stone walls of the root cellar remain intact where the family stored their vegetables.

I had fulfilled one of my goals for the trip by visiting the farm once more. The farmer and his mother were warm and welcoming. She even asked us to stay for ‘kaffe’ afterwards, an invitation that I had to decline because we had to yet to drive to our hotel further south. But before we followed her son down to the farm field, he disappeared back into the house and re-emerged with a large, manila envelope from which he pulled a few papers.

My great grandmother's family farm in Småland, as it appeared in 1916 seen here in a photocopy of the original picture.
My great grandmother’s family farm in Småland, as it appeared in 1916 seen here in a photocopy of the original picture.

Among the papers were photocopies of photos of my family’s farmstead, as it appeared in 1916, when relatives who came after, still lived there. I had never seen these photos before. I did my best to photograph the copies so I could show Bo and my family back in the States. I had just finished snapping the photos when the farmer picked up the other papers from the envelope that he had placed on the porch bench. A little slip of paper fell out.

I instantly recognized the handwriting. It was that of my own father’s.  My Dad had torn a piece of paper from the little pocket calendar that he always carried with him and had written upon it his name, address and phone number. The date at the top read: September 1993. “Det är min far,” I exclaimed. “Det är min far!” (That is my father!) Tears welled in my eyes at the sight of it.

My father had written down his contact information when he and my mother had visited. He had left it with the farmer and his mother who had kept it all these years in the envelope with the photos and other information about Väster Lund, as that farm was called, perhaps just so that it would be there when I returned.  Now, 23 years later it was as if my Dad was saying: “Remember, we were here too,” and sending me his love simply with this slip of paper. It was my Father’s Day in Fagerdal.

 

PET Projects Bring Mobility to Many

When most visitors go to Florida, they often wind up at some of the state’s many tourist attractions–the Everglades, the Kennedy Space Center, Disney World, Daytona Beach–to mention a few.  But none of those spots were on my itinerary when I went to the state recently.  It was my first trip there since I was kid vacationing with my parents. And one of the reasons I travelled from one tip of the country to the other, was to spend a little time with my 89-year-old uncle.

Then: My uncle in uniform waves to us from the dock near his aircraft carrier
Then: My uncle in uniform waves to us from the dock near his aircraft carrier

Red, as most people know him, is an old salt whose career with the Navy began when he ran away from home as a teenager, signed up under age during World War II and then toured the world mostly on aircraft carriers to become a Master Chief Petty Officer asked to go to the Pentagon, a job he turned down. But I know him as the uncle who was full of shenanigans as a boy, plays harmonica, sews and can tell a tale with the best of them.

Now: At 89, my uncle still stands tall in our family.
Now: At 89, my uncle still stands tall in our family.

I visited him at his retirement community where he now lives, Penney Farms, about 50 miles south of Jacksonville. It’s a thriving little place that was established in 1926 by the department store tycoon, J.C. Penney as somewhere for his parents, who were in the ministry, and others like them could retire. The population who reside there now, like my uncle, come from varied backgrounds. It’s a lovely spot with 93 cottages, an apartment complex, health facilities, a gym, an arts center, a non-denominational church, and a beautiful Norman-styled architecture dining hall where I had breakfast with my uncle every morning.

The Quad outside Penney Farm's dining hall is peaceful and inviting.
The Quad outside Penney Farm’s dining hall is peaceful and inviting.

My uncle gave me the grand tour which besides the stops I’ve already listed, also included the workshop where he spends two mornings a week.  This is not, however, your ordinary workshop for hobbyists who like to putter at building a birdhouse or maybe a sign for the front door. This is serious stuff.

The workshop at Penney Farms turns out PET carts that are shipped around the world.
The workshop at Penney Farms turns out PET carts that are shipped around the world.

Those who come here are all dedicated volunteers who collectively construct wooden carts that are shipped, literally, all over the world to those who are leg disabled. It is part of a much larger project known as the Personal Energy Transportation Mobility Project, or PET for short.

Paint Stop
The wooden carriages for the PET carts are given colorful coats of paint.

Begun in 1994 by missionaries Larry Hills, Mel West and engineer Earl Miner. PET was intended to provide a means of mobility to persons who had been victims of polio or landmines. The first of these went to where Hills was posted in Zaire. But word about their effort and project quickly spread until today, PET ships, through its 26 affiliate workshops, thousands of these carts to 101 countries.  Carts crafted at the Penny Farms workshop alone have gone to 93 countries.

The tablesaw is used by my uncle to cut the boards for the cart's body.
The table saw is used by my uncle to cut the boards for the cart’s body.

Those who volunteer at the Penney Farms workshop, like my uncle, each have a specific job to do in manufacturing the cart.  My uncle’s is to cut to size the boards needed for the body. Another tugs and pulls to upholster the seat cushions; another cuts the drive chains to an exact length and others give them the final coats of colorful paint. Most, but not all, who come here, reside at Penney Farms.

One of the PET volunteers cuts the chain for the drive gear to an exact size.
One of the PET volunteers cuts the chain for the drive gear to an exact size.

The ingenuous design of these mobility miracles has evolved over the years.  Padded seats were added, wooden handles were switched to heavy-duty plastic, tires were improved and a storage bin included beneath for carrying goods and other items.  But they all still substitute a hand crank for foot pedals to power it and make it affordable to PET’s partners who supply those in poor, underdeveloped countries. As a result, more than 57,000 people have been lifted off their knees and out of the dirt.

The steering bars with their plastic handles hang waiting for installation.
The steering bars with their plastic handles hang waiting for installation.

Sure, it’s not the high technology that visitors will see when they go to the Kennedy Space Center, but the good it’s accomplishing is beyond technology.  And those I met who volunteer in the Penney Farms workshop obviously love the camaraderie and the purpose of what they are building there.  Might not be on your list of places to go next time you visit Florida, but I’m glad it was on mine.

During my visit, I hopped onto one of the carts and gave it go.
During my visit, I hopped onto one of the carts and gave it go.