Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Woman At Dinner

A couple of nights ago we went to dinner. There were two at our table. At a table in my direct view at a round table there were five. A mother, facing me, her daughter which would be to my left, another woman with her back to me, that woman's daughter sitting close to her also with her back to me and a young girl of about 5 years old dancing around the table and all over the place. I would guess the age of the women to be in their late 20's or mid 30's. The two girls looked to be about 8-11 years old.

I noticed the table because of the raised voice and because of the younger girls' behavior. She was constantly moving and they never asked her to stop. Perhaps that is because they were so busy talking they did not have one single minute to give attention to her. The girl that was to the left was sitting several chairs removed from everyone else at the table. She never spoke and she seemed as if she wished she could disappear.

Since I could hear every word I think I can figure out why.

Her mother was discussing the girls' father. On and on she went talking to the other little girl about her daughter's dad and about how he had no time for her. The other little girl apparently had a cell phone with a camera in it. Well, she proceeded to pull HER cell phone out of her purse and announce "do you know what this phone does? It rings and it has a button to push to answer it, which is all you need on a phone. It's for talking!" Then she began to tell the girl that HER daughter wished she had the attention that her father paid to her but her daughters' dad didn't have time to waste on her, he never called, didn't spend any money on her and just didn't care. So she should be glad her dad cared about her, but to remember that the material things don't matter so don't be fooled into thinking that just because he buys her things doesn't mean he loves her.

Well, buy this time I was just seething! I couldn't imagine that this woman was just sitting in a restaurant talking about this at the top of her voice. But the worst CRIME of all was the look on her daughters face! The girl was so disengaged! She looked as if she wanted to dig a hole and crawl in the floor. I literally wanted to go over to the table and give her a hug. She still never uttered a word. She just stared into space. And the younger girl still danced a jig. As I stared, she began to notice me looking. Around this time I began to not care if I was polite so I stopped looking away. I actually wanted her to realize she was being looked at. Perhaps she needed to know that what she was doing was being noticed. As the meal progressed she then begin to describe how this girls father had grabbed her (the mother) by the arm and jerked her around and left bruises on her and then threw her on the floor. Once that was said all pretense of not staring went out the window. I just stared her down. She announced to the other woman that "our conversation must be pretty loud because people are looking at us". Gee, do 'ya think?
Finally the torment ended and the unhappy soul left the table. Unfortunately, her daughter had to go with her, more than likely headed for more verbal abuse.

For the life of me I can not understand why some parents hurl insults in their children's faces. No matter your thoughts on your ex-spouse or someone else's parent it is still their parent. You DON'T talk bad about someone's parent. Period. It's just not done. When you do you are attacking HALF of them. You are attacking the person who made part of them. If we as the adult can not control ourselves how can we ever ask our children to do so? The look on a childs face when one talks bad about their parent or the things that have gone wrong in their family life should be enough to make one shut their fucking mouth.

It's been days and I still think of this girl.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Little Star Cemetery ~ Where It All Started

A lot of people know about my interest in cemeteries. Not many people know how that interest started. The most common question I hear when someone knows that I photograph cemeteries is "Why?", and the next is "How did you get into doing that?". Those questions have an easy answer, although they are still too complicated to explain to the casual question. Here is the long explanation that I can't often give when someone asks me.

My grandfather, William Thomas Cooper, was a Reverend in a little town called Grayson, Louisiana. He and my grandmother, Bessie, lived on a road where they had the only house. At the end of the road was a small cemetery. Little Star Cemetery held the graves of my grandmothers first husband who had passed away while she was pregnant with my Uncle, and her two babies that passed away shortly after their birth. Grandpa took care of the cemetery over the years by mowing and keeping up the graves. I have since learned that other people helped with this as well. When we would visit Louisiana my sister and I would go to the cemetery with him to play while he would work. And that led to times when we would walk down the dirt and rock road to play and investigate the graves on our own. That might seem strange to some people but to us it was a nice place to be and our mother didn't have to worry about us. It had a fence so we couldn't go anywhere and let's face it, no one could get us there because they were all 'otherwise engaged'. While at Little Star we would also visit the graves with our Grandma and our mother. We were told the stories of the two babies, our Grandma's first husband, Willis, and his mother, Emily, and a special friend of the family, Mr. Tony Cardot. At the time I never realized that I was gleaning history from these casual visits to the cemetery. I now wish I could go back to those days and write everything down as it would be so helpful to my research.

At Little Star there is a very special grave. His name is James Earl Grant. I would often sit at his grave when my cousins would play there. They sometimes made fun of me for sitting there for so long. However, this grave was special to me and I was always drawn to it. In my mind James Earl was about 3 years old. I knew he was a young child but since I was so young I never took much notice of the dates on his stone. His grave was partly above ground and always had shells on it. No matter how many years passed those shells were always there. I always thought it strange that so far from the ocean a grave would have shells on it. As my love of cemeteries grew I began to photograph the headstones. I never knew what to do with the photographs but I guess I knew one day an opportunity would arrive.

One day while searching the internet for some family names I saw my grandfathers' name. The link took me to a site called Findagrave. It was there that I found a community to share my photos and stories of graving. I added my photo of my special angel, James Earl, on Findagrave. I received an e-mail from a lady who told me that she was his sister and that she wondered why I had added him to Findagrave. After exchanging emails with her I learned more about him and her family. I learned that he was only 2 months old and he passed away from SIDS in 1948. I also learned that she had always wondered why the shells were on his grave and had never been given an answer from her parents. One day while looking at his memorial on Findagrave I saw a beautiful picture of him as a newborn with his mother holding him. The caption on the photo said "This is for you James Earl, you and Julie". His sister had left the picture there for him and for me. I was so touched that she would do that. There is a little more to the story of me and James Earl and only about 5 people on earth know the whole true story, she is one. I won't share it with anyone else. It is too special. We still e-mail today, it turns out that our Grandmothers were friends and she still has a rocking chair that my Grandfather made for her Grandmother.

It truly is a small world.

So when people look at me strangely when they find out I'm a modern day grave hunter, I just smile. Because inside I know the joys of the things that have happened in my life just from taking a few pictures in a lonely cemetery on a hot afternoon. Or walking the cemetery in the freezing cold after an ice storm with a loved one and the joy that can bring, and the history I can learn. Or the excitement I feel when I get and e-mail from a stranger that says, "You took a picture of my uncle's headstone; he was killed in the line of duty". Or the wonder I felt when I found a headstone that said "Time Reveals All Things, Assassinated in Brenham Texas". That headstone sent me on a search for a newspaper from the 1800's where I found out he had been shot on the front porch of a saloon. He had once been involved in a shoot out with Belle Starr. His killer was never found. Where else can your mind be prompted to go on such a hunt? Imagine how touched I felt when I walked upon the most beautiful angel monument I have ever seen and in her hands was one single red rose, left only long enough to have wilted perfectly to the form of her hands as if it was one with her hands, the love of that sight, to know that someone else had walked in that very spot only hours earlier. I have been brought to tears, jumped for joy, said "there you are, finally", severely saddened, broken hearted, thankful, grateful and happy, Where else can you be prompted to have such varied emotions in one place? Only in one place I can think of.

A cemetery.