Remembering Janice

In a year that has been defined by loss, my family took another hit this week. We lost an elder, my Aunt Janice. She was a spirited woman with a vibrant personality that filled up a room and her loss has left a void yet to be measured.

There were ten kids in my mother’s family. Janice married the oldest son Howard. Growing up, family dinners as we called them (you likely call them reunions), were held twice a year – on the Sunday closest to Christmas and the Sunday closest to my grandparents‘ birthdays (August 14 and 15). All my aunts and uncles and countless cousins packed into my grandparents’ house for a potluck meal that ranged from the lazy cook’s bucket of chicken to delicious pies and a line of crockpots containing such delicacies as homemade noodles, garden fresh green beans and venison.

If you were smart, you knew which of the aunts were the best cooks and what they had brought. Janice was one of those who could make anything taste good, a skill that came in handy during the years she ran her own restaurant. She also knew how to stretch a dollar to feed a crowd. I once saw this woman transform four eggs into a steaming hot pan of delicious scrambled eggs that fed a table full of people.

It was always evident when Janice was present because you could pick out her laughter from any crowd. She knew how to capture your attention, how to tell a story, and how to make you laugh.

She loved having a good time and wanted everyone else to share her joy. Simply hearing her laughter could make you happy too.

Janice was an avid reader who enjoyed critical thinking, travel and anything that exercised her mind. Janice was quick witted, a no-nonsense straight shooter who wasn’t known to back down when she thought she was right. Which was most of the time, by my estimation.

She was what you might call a gutsy broad.

Janice was a talented quilter and even ran the local library branch for some years.

She especially loved western travel and sharing stories about the places she visited. I regret not hearing more about her trip to Glacier last fall because I’m sure it was a good one.

She was a proud mother and grandmother who encouraged her offspring to work hard, to do good, and to be strong.

There’s also a chance she was the best pie maker in the world. Seriously, friends. The Best.

In fact, Janice taught me how to make pies a long, long time ago. I was a tiny little girl with blonde hair in pigtails when she and my uncle Howard came to visit. She made an apple pie and let me help, telling me that maybe someday I could make a pie of my own.

A few days later, inspired by my newfound “skill” of pie making I got up early and made one in the middle of our very new white linoleum kitchen floor.

Assorted cereal, potato chips, flour, food coloring and other scavenged ingredients spilled over the sides of my tiny doll pan and onto that white floor.

Imagine my mother’s unbridled horror when she discovered my culinary achievement. Let’s just say that I was in trouble all day and possibly for days after.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall when Janice heard that story! I’m guessing she enjoyed it immensely.

I use pictures to tell stories and am grateful to have this one from last year’s family dinner.

Janice was sitting on my parent’s front porch, quietly taking in the scene as people arrived with covered dishes and young children in tow. I was lurking in my usual stance with my zoom lens in hand. She caught my camera and gave me this look.

Anyone who knew Janice can tell you what came next. She smiled, said something witty and laughed that fabulous laugh.

And this is how I will remember her.

Problems And Fresh Perspective

This week has been challenging. I’m tired and haven’t felt well since getting a flu shot. Everyone needs something. Lots of people are picking at each other. Things just aren’t going well and obstacles have been the norm rather than the exception to the rule.

The key phrase yesterday was “you’ve got to be kidding me.”

A full blown tantrum has been on the horizon for several days.

But a work errand sent me to Columbus yesterday where I drove past Children’s Hospital and Ronald McDonald House. There was a woman wrangling two small children outside Ronald McDonald House and it occurred to me there are people out there with real, life threatening problems.

So I took a big breath of fresh air and decided it best to appreciate the good in my problems. That’s not to say they aren’t real but my issues right now would fall into a category that should be marked “Headaches” rather than “Day-Shattering-Tantrum-Inducing-Crises.”

I’m busy because people need me and because I have a job. That flu shot was covered by my health insurance and may keep me healthy later. Those obstacles that keep screwing up my schedule? That could all be a plot by the universe to keep me alive for another day. If an accident happens in the blink of an eye, all these delays could be preventing something terrible from making matters worse.

Sometimes you just have to pause a moment and reframe things. A good gulp of fresh air and a new perspective never hurt anyone.

Let’s see what hurdles this day holds, shall we?

Merle

I got my first good digital SLR about thirteen years ago. The day it arrived, I took a walk with my folks and encountered my Uncle Merle doing something in his driveway.

I couldn’t tell you what he was doing but he was standing in the bed of his truck. I had a new toy and took advantage of the moment to grab a few pictures while he was distracted, talking with my dad.

I captured two images that late winter evening.

This one I call “Confidence.”

He always looked exactly like this. The flannel, the trucker hat, that stance. And he always had a cigarette in one hand and a cold drink in the other.

He was a capable man, a confident man. The kind of guy who could take apart an engine and put it together again without hesitation. The kind of guy who worked from sun up to sun down, often doing back breaking work to care for his family. The kind of man who could diffuse any situation with a funny joke or a smart remark.

He had the best sense of humor.

I also made this image. I call this one “Just Merle.”

It wasn’t long after that evening that Merle was gone. Taken from us far too soon in a work related accident. He was just 43.

I love these pictures and am so grateful that we have them.

This is why we take pictures- not just to show our friends on social media what we had for dinner. Not just to take up space on our phones or computers. Not just to say we have them.

We make pictures to capture a moment, a place, a person important to us. We make pictures so that we can remember the gleam in the eye of a person we adored on the anniversary of their death- like today. Merle died on this day and we still miss him, we still shake our heads in disbelief that he’s gone.

He still holds a place in our hearts and at the table at every family function, even if we can’t see him. He’s forever young thanks to these and other pictures.

Incidentally, the digital files appear to be long gone but luckily I still have the prints. So don’t just collect those digital images on your device. Print them too. You never know when a phone will die or a computer explode and your images will be gone.

I would hate to think I no longer had these pictures to remember him.