say cheese

I’ve been helping my father with his project of preserving a massive collection of old family photos in digital format, and I had to share this one, hot off the scanner.

That’s my great-grandmother, Patricia Irene, who spoke with an Irish lilt all her life.  During my father’s childhood, she lived along a canal in Florida and would order her grandchildren to go and pick their own breakfasts from the many varieties of citrus she grew in her back yard.

Oh, and then she would get impatient when they didn’t go do it pronto and storm off to do it herself, thus ensuring that it would be another morning task for her forevermore.  (Oh, I feel your pain, great-grandma.)  Although I suspect she secretly did not mind being out early in the sweetly scented grove, choosing the ripest among the fresh fruits for her beloved grandchildren.

“Oh, my God!” my sister breathed when I passed her this photo during our holiday family gathering.  Our eyes met, and some kind of recognition flashed between us.  It wasn’t just the fact that she was beaming up at us from among our beloved dogwood blossoms, or her sturdy stance in the leaf mold.  Somehow we both knew immediately that Patricia Irene would have been a kindred spirit, no matter her flaws — which Dad assures us were many and legend.

In fact, I couldn’t stop asking him for more of his memories of her over the Christmas holidays, and I think it was a pleasure for him to have an attentive audience for those tales he hardly ever tells.  (If ever, for I’d never heard many of them.)

It was hard to reconcile this laughing little wood nymph, exactly five feet tall, with the hard edge of the ruler she used to slap my father’s knuckles whenever he practiced piano.  (I tell myself it was the era’s style of musical education, and not just her personal belief that knuckle pain somehow inspired discipline.)

But it was so much easier to hear that she was a professional classical musician (cellist).  My sis is a professional classical musician (oboist).  But then, my mom was once, too, and I suspect that’s had a much stronger influence on my sister.  (I once played an instrument tolerably well, but I believe that’s because I come from a family of musicians and devoted music lovers.  It was hard not to pick up something when it was basically in the air.)

Beyond the music, she was a lover of poetry, an inspired cook, and a fanatic for her gardens, wherever she happened to be.  She also had a temper, hated to wear makeup, had feisty political opinions, and loved to walk in the woods.


Without ever having met her, I seem to have been channeling my great-grandmother all my life.  Isn’t that funny?

(Of course, nowadays I’d never steal entire branches off the dogwood trees for any reason, and I suggest we all limit our love of their beauty to observation and not possession, if at all possible.  The noble dogwood is struggling for its very existence.  You can read more about that in a wonderfully emotional previous post here.)

26 Responses to “say cheese”

  1. She is lovely and I think I can see a little you in her. And a lot of you in your interests. What a wonderful photograph.

    • I think it’s a wonderful find, too, Lynn. I thought we shared a similar face structure around the eyes especially. Mine bunch up underneath and become dark slits when I smile or laugh, too. 😉

  2. I think it is wonderful that you were able to learn so much about her through your dad. His recollections and the photo make her more then just your great-grandmother, but a real person. Thank you for sharing about her.

  3. What a wonderful photograph from head to toe … and how lovely for you to be reconnecting with your great-grandmother. She was very wise… feeding you all the freshest of fruit for breakfast! From your description it sounds like I would have adored your grandmother… you seem to be carrying on her spirit within yours… from what I have come to enjoy here thru your writing and photography of your gardens. Lovely post!

  4. The first thing that struck me was her sturdy boots. The boots of someone who is serious about their outdoor pursuits. And her eyes – you have her eyes, Meredith. And my Mom (who has a hot temper) would say that a person without some temper is like a stew without pepper – very blah 🙂

    • Well, that makes me feel better about the temper, Talon. I’ve gotten much better at controlling it with age. When I was younger, it was like a wild mustang in my heart sometimes… now it only throws me occasionally.

      Do you really think I have her eyes? That’s cool. 😉

  5. What a terrific, terrific photo–and legacy to have. Love the look on her face, because her vibrant personality just shines through, all these years later.
    I don’t sell my photos, Meredith, but you should have my email address from this note. Send me an email and I’ll send you the photo digitally and you can have it printed or print it yourself. I’m honoured that you like it that much.

    • Oh, jodi, that is so generous of you. I really adore that shot of the bee in your post “the bee-loud glade.” (Wonderful poetical reference, btw.) I will definitely be in contact. Thank you. 🙂

  6. What a great photo. That’s so wonderful that along with the photo, you were able to hear stories about her!

  7. A beautiful photo. How wonderful to feel that family connection through four generations. Do you know when it was taken? I’m guessing, from the hem length and hairtsyle, late 1920s, early 30s?

    • Family legend has it that the photo was taken before the birth of her firstborn, my paternal grandfather, who came into this world in 1926. Of course, there is no way to really know now, as the photographer and the subject are both no longer with us. But mid-to-late 1920s seems like a good guess. 🙂

  8. Old family photos are much more fun when they feature not only family but the flora and fauna of the time.

    When I was 40 and again taking piano lessons my professor, who was trained at Rollins College in Florida, once whacked my knuckles, lol. Two of her classmates were Mr. Rogers (Fred, of the children’s program) and his wife Joanne.

    • Nell Jean, isn’t that true? It makes me want to take a modern version of this for my family, with me standing among the dogwoods now. Who knows if the dogwood will even be around when my descendants look at the photo? (And who knows if I’ll have descendants.)

      I guess that knuckle-whacking thing didn’t quite die out yet. 😉 (And she was trained in Florida, you say?)

  9. i love this picture. it brought a smile to my face as soon as i saw it. thanks for sharing those little bits about her. i think it’s so interesting to see how similar your personalities are! and such a shame to not have been able to meet her in person.

    • Alisha, I’m glad you liked it. It’s a photograph that rather inspires smiles somehow, I think. She looks so happy. 🙂 And that’s the trouble with ancestors: they never stick around quite long enough.

  10. The smile is inspirational, and it must have gone into veins of her great grandchildren… ~bangchik

  11. what a great post, i can actually see your face in your grandmothers photo, i bet you’ve probably also done some fun flower/face photo ops, come on lets see!



  12. she is lovely… and those boots, aren’t they amazing? such a treasure, my friend.

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