I dream last night of my grandmother, my mother’s mother, the one my sisters and I call Gammy. She was one of the original Backyard Sisters, the youngest of four girls born in an Illinois small town. She always wore high heels and a silk petticoat, carried a patent leather pocket book, and never pierced her ears.
Gammy, far left
No one laughed like Gammy, or danced like Gammy, and lord knows no one loved or was loved quite like Gammy. Our mother, an only child, and we, her four granddaughters, were the sun around which she revolved. She was the kind of grandmother who, with each hello or goodbye, would clasp her hands around both your cheeks, pull you within inches of her own face, and with her eyes drink you in like whiskey the first night Prohibition was lifted. Not that Gammy ever drank. She was a confirmed teetotaler. Her giddiness bubbled purely from joy at being alive, surrounded by family.
We girls loved her back with reckless abandon.
Gammy has been dead now for almost 12 years. But last night, when she leaned over me, right there in the moonlight, white lacy dress fluttering as she circled her hands over my head and cajoled, “Get up! Get up! Get up” I was only slightly surprised. See, even though I use the term “dream,” to name these occasional encounters, it feels like a much more substantial spirit than my subconscious. The other sisters will tell you their own stories about Gammy visits. It’s like she was right there, right there in the room… The only difference between our stories is what she tells us.
“Get up! Get up!” Oh my Gammy knows I’m struggling with rising out of the holiday stupor of too much food and too much fireside reading and too much nothing-to-do. It’s January 4 and I haven’t yet set my intentions for the new year, haven’t decided yet what to focus on.
And focus I must. Why?
Because, like the holidays, my to-do list is rich with too many good things and I’ve been acting like that squirrel in the headlights, unwilling to say yes to anything because I’ll have to say no to so many others.
There is one sacred rock. Family. There are 22 of us now, our parents, we four sisters and mates, our own children and in-laws. We gather at least once a month to celebrate birthdays, or graduations, or holidays. We bake Gammy’s cake recipes and roast chicken like she did and never say we’re too busy to sing and dance in the kitchen.
But work projects are essential. Our writing, teaching and photography sustain us and pay our bills. And then what is life without trying to leave the world a little better for someone else? Nothing! Gammy would say.
So in honor of what would have been Gammy’s centennial year, the Backyard Sisters decided to challenge ourselves.
We’ve selected 12 photographic terms, one to concentrate on each month. These words convey a message, or capture a moment, a mood. We’ve picked expressions that easily become inspiration and metaphor for family, for creative projects, for our place in the human collective. They’re essential to saving life’s ordinary moments from the brink of oblivion; without these intentions meaningful art and life become difficult.
Our theme for January is focus. Works for photography. Works for poetry.
“It Is Out Of Focus” by Joel Lipman, (Poetry Foundation)
Ansel Adams once said, “When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” (LensWork, Issue 55, page 33.)
The Backyard Sisters welcome you to 2013 with words, with photographs, and yes sometimes silence, just to remember.
Each day we all travel one step closer to the inevitable endless silence of death. The challenge then is to leave behind the words, images and memories that when recalled will reflect our best efforts.
Are you with us? Then “Get up! Get up!” The program begins on Tuesday. Until then, think about what deserves your attention this year.
~Catherine and Sue