This morning I did something unbelievably special – I did a family portrait for FOUR generations!
And as I watched the Little People sitting with their Great Grandparents I felt a very real weight of responsibility. The children were all super young (the oldest just four) and so WAY too young to realise how desperately precious every click of the shutter was ever going to be.
You see, I never knew my Great Grandparents. Sadly I never even knew either of my Grandad’s – my maternal Grandad died long before I was born and my paternal Grandad when I was still a babe in arms.
But at least I have a PHOTO of me with my Dads Dad. This is me – a fat, happy baby after my Christening! In my Nan’s arms – Grandad, braces proudly on show – in the middle of his newly ‘extended-by-one’ family. He died not long after this photograph was taken and this is the only photograph I have of him.
What I DON’T understand is why this also seems to be the only photo I have of me with my Nan (cue all of my cousins now rushing off to find photos of frizzy haired, gappy toothed Little Annie with Nan to post all over Social Media!)
‘Nanny Brotherton’ was not some remote, distant presence in my younger life. She was a constant, grounding and gentle force that held us all together. She would appear, almost by magic, at the bus stop at the end of our street when my mother (who ran her own business, not only with me in tow but also my siblings – twins, three years younger) had too much to do and was just at the point of having a complete and utter nervous breakdown.
Like some magical, female Mr Benn (link for all you babies born after 1975 who have no IDEA what I mean – Mr Benn ) she would appear from nowhere waving little white paper bags full of chocolate buttons (the ones covered in hundreds and thousands from an era when sweets came in white paper bags. When we were eco-friendly…..and didn’t even know it) for her three Grandchildren. And she would just quietly, and without judging, help Mum pull it all back together and then vanish again.
Until next time.
And we all ADORED her.
I remember SO much about her – the weird little details that only Little Children remember. She always wore a hat when she went out – even if ‘out’ was just to post a letter. She always wore a brooch and had a HUGE box of them. And big clip-on earrings (usually pearl) that we would sit and play with for hours.
She had a fireplace in her front room with beige and green tiles that I can’t describe but which I would recognise instantly if I ever found one in a reclamation yard. And she had a white china rabbit with a white fluffy tail which sat on the mantelpiece – and which now sits on mine, his white tail grey and falling out with age.
She had a Grandmother clock on the wall which ticked loudly and chimed. And a huge sideboard with carvings on the doors. And she always seemed to have a vase of fresh flowers somewhere (I blame my Nan entirely for my love of vases of fresh flowers and collection of weird hats)
Her kitchen had green and yellow ‘shiny’ walls. And she always put loads and loads of pepper on her roast dinner.
And – best of all – in her handbag she had a little concertina album with photos of every single one of her thirteen grandchildren. And she loved all of us with a passion that still feels tangible years after she has left this world.
Yet I have no photos with her?
I am from a family of passionate photographers. We have – between all us cousins – hundreds of family photos. And we have a LOT of photos of my Nan (especially given the fact that some of them are from an era when photography was an expensive hobby). Wonderful black and white photos, now yellowed and faded, but none the less precious! We have my Nan with her OWN three daughters, my Dads sisters, and my cousin Andrene:-
We have my Nan in her chair in that sitting room that I remember SO well with the Huge-To-A -Three-Year-Old sideboard and the obligatory vase of fresh flowers:-
With my Dad:-
And with my Mum – pre-us – newly married with her first baby, Mandy, her Cairn Terrier:-
And my Nan as I remember her best….looking after us. Gentle. Calm. Kind. And just happy if we were. Because that was all she EVER asked-
I was eight when she died. She was the first person in my long eight years that I ‘knew’ to die and I will never forget being told. I felt like someone had ripped my soul from my being and the sun from the sky.
And yet I don’t have ONE photograph with her?
And I do wonder if this is something of which we are ALL a little bit guilty. Even now.
As professional togs we are asked all the time to photograph the young – the newborns, the first birthdays, the children starting school. The new beginnings – the Graduates. The engagements. The weddings.
But we are rarely asked to photograph older people . Maybe the occasional Golden Wedding – but portraits. Of ‘old people’……never!
We photograph puppies. And dogs in their prime. But rarely the old, loyal and partially deaf spaniel that has loved us for all his life.
How TERRIBLE if we are guilty of doing just the same with our humans! Those people who have also loved you all their life!
Peeps – on this, Grandparents Day 2020, just take a moment to consider YOUR family photographs. It is sometimes difficult – with lively Little People and Frail Older People – to get them together. I look back at my own family photos and see photos of my OLDER cousins with my Nan. But none of us younger ones. Had Nan become much frailer by the time we came along and that is why we missed out? Is that what happens?? And memories are lost.
I’m quite sure that my lovely client, Jade, will not mind me saying that it wasn’t all plain sailing for us either this morning! And that’s with a professional tog on hand!!! Her Pap is 91 and a little unsteady on his feet. Her youngest has just had his First Birthday – and so is also a bit unsteady on his feet!! And that is never going to be a super simple photograph to organise!
But things worth having rarely are. And we must at the very least TRY. These are precious, irreplaceable memories. There are the threads that bind you and the very roots of your family tree.
Just take a few moments to make sure you have no missing links in YOUR chain.
Otherwise YOUR children, when they are my age, might just look back and wonder where all the photographs are of them with their Nan.