It’s rare to get a shot of one of my two, very active new kittens. JJ was still enough for me to catch him during a brief pause while wrestling with his sister Stella.
We decided, after so much loss this year, to adopt two kittens from a kitten rescue in the Los Angeles area. When I got to meet these two siblings (boy-black, girl-Siamese), I knew these were our future family members. Stella (Siamese) immediately settled down in my lap, gazed for a long time into my eyes, then promptly went to sleep. JJ (Joe Jr.), was a bit more skeptical at first, but he often takes his cues from Stella, who approved of me, so he, too, plopped down into my lap and fell asleep next to her.
Since our oldest cat is 14, it’s been a long time since we’ve had babies. I forget the tremendous kind of frenetic energy they expend in any given play session. They play hard, then drop in their tracks to nap hard. In between, there are cuddles and that beautiful, motor-like sound of purring. Kitten therapy.
The end of last week marked a heart-crushing milestone in our lives. Within 24 hours, we lost both our beloved greyhounds Charlotte and Sophie. There are no words for the gaping hole in our family their loss has created, coming a week after we lost our 19-year-old kitty, Pookie, and less than two months after the death of my father.
In our heads, we know these beings won’t live as long as we do, but we bring them into our lives and love them anyway, accepting that our hearts will break when they leave. We had our girls for over 10 years. Sophie was 14 1/2 and Charlotte 13, long lives for greyhounds. While Sophie’s passing was expected given her deteriorating health, Charlotte’s was sudden and unexpected.
An animal intuitive I know told me that it was clear the two of them were very bonded. They helped to complete each other. Sophie was often very shy around strangers, while Charlotte was outgoing and effervescent with happiness. Even still, it’s apparently rare when animals decide to pass together. Typically, Charlotte always had to be the first dog out the back door, so it makes sense that she went first, waiting on the other side for Sophie.
Although we find it difficult to breathe in the wake of their loss, I think they knew we’d be o.k……eventually, and we don’t regret a single minute we spent with them. They enriched our lives immeasurably.
Taking some time to get back to the things that matter…..like marshmallow peeps.
More images inspired by the work of Charles Jones (1866-1959).
Not long ago, I discovered the work of a little-known photographer who never got recognition for his work during his lifetime, and his aesthetic speaks directly to mine in the kinds of subjects he chose and in the kinds of contexts in which he shot them. Charles Jones’s work makes me want to run out and buy produce. In fact, it has. An Englishman born in 1866, he was a lifelong gardener, a very private person according to surviving family members, and apparently, a gifted photographer who made, quite literally, the fruits of his labors his photographic subjects.
Like Vivian Maier’s work, Jones’s work was discovered accidentally. Photograph collector, Sean Sexton, found a trunk for sale at a London antique market that was filled with hundreds of photos of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Apparently, “they had been passed over and scored by dealers and collectors earlier in the day” but “Sexton instantly saw an originality and quality in the works.” (I need to frequent large flea markets more often.) Sexton then published some of the images in his book Plant Kingdoms of Charles Jones in 1998, but the book was re-released in 2016 with an introduction by Alice Waters.
I can clearly see the love this photographer had for his subject matter. According to Sexton, there are no surviving negatives, so the prints are all that’s left of Mr. Jones’s legacy, in addition to a few stories by surviving relatives about the photographer himself. You can find a wonderful piece about the photographer on this site along with more of his images: http://spitalfieldslife.com/2012/03/09/charles-jones-gardener-photographer
Jones died on November 15, two days after I was born, but I’d like to think I carry forward the legacy of his work. Though I didn’t grow the plant matter I photograph, the fruits, vegetables, flowers, and other botanicals are as alive to me as they were to Jones. This one is for you, Mr. Jones, with gratitude.
I know many of my friends lately have had to deal with the passing of a parent. This past February it was my turn. I didn’t know, but my father had been living with Parkinson’s-like symptoms for a while, not having told anyone until the symptoms were unavoidably visible. I live a continent away and trips back east are not frequent, except that while I was visiting with my mother, whose husband died after Thanksgiving, I went to see my father who was hospitalized. The doctors were having a hard time diagnosing what was happening with him. Dad thought it all may have had to do with a cyst on his brain stem. It wasn’t. Turns out he had a very aggressive, Parkinson’s-like disease and died within two months of the diagnosis, two months after I saw him for the last time. The boy in the rowboat crossed the horizon.
Dad and I had a fraught history. My parents were young when they had me, an accident. Neither of them knew how to be parents. They weren’t yet fully adults themselves. It took me a long time to understand and accept that after measuring my childhood in losses and absences, words not said, hugs not given, voids filled with fear and anger. Later in life, Dad seemed to find his way, learned how to be a grandfather to my brother’s daughter and his companion’s kids.
At his memorial, I heard people say many warm things about my Dad. He was certainly a likable person. But I sat counting the things I couldn’t say, like how hard it was to find Father’s Day cards that didn’t ring false. Like how I didn’t hear my father say he loved me until I was in my 50s (though better late than never). How some men’s cologne will always be the scent of rage for me. However, because of his absences of heart and attention, I’ve learned how to be strong, self-sufficient, how to step out of the dark of depression to create my own life.
A recent movie presented a beautiful, heartbreaking meditation on time and memory, posing a question; would you live your life over again knowing what you’d have to go through? I don’t know. I know I miss my Dad. We never seemed to have much in common beyond shared biology and history, but in the last couple years, he began to respond to my photography in a way that I never expected, initiating conversations on various images. For Christmas this past year, I sent him a calendar I made from my photos. My brother said that when they had to move Dad into a nursing care facility, they posted my calendar on the wall where he could see it. His last post on Facebook in September of 2016 was of two images side-by-side, images that meant much to him: a photograph of his beloved Rottweiler, Greta, and an old black and white photo of me at around age 2, explaining that “both are beautiful.”
I know this final absence has opened up old wounds, but I look at my favorite image of Dad, the boy in the rowboat, and I understand how he is a part of me, regardless. He was once young and hopeful. He had things he wanted to do and to be. He lost things and gained others, including 5 marriages, while he navigated the complex scope of his life. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, particularly at the end.
What I do hope is that at my end, I can look upon the intersection of his life and mine and also declare, “both are beautiful.”