Last week when my Nana passed my dad told me that Nana always believed that when a loved one passed they would leave behind pennies for their left loved ones to find. I was skeptical when Dad told me that his brother, sisters, and he himself had found one. I mean how hard is it really to find a penny in America; people just throw them on the ground. I’m in Korea, no one here uses pennies, it is like being deployed. In fact our PX uses the rounding system so they don’t have to use pennies because it is impractical.
To my surprise I found one in my apartment the other day when I went home from the field to grab some clean shirts and socks. I found it in the middle of the floor near my door. It hadn’t been there when I had entered my apartment, but when I went to leave there it was. I was dumbfounded to say the least. I went through my head with all of the movements I had done since I had been home, nothing I did could tie itself to there being a penny on the floor. I shrugged it off.
Today though, I had to eat my words, or rather eat my thoughts. I found another penny in a van. It was a penny like I had never seen before. Apparently they changed the design of the penny since I have been gone. The guys called it a “captain America” penny. It was shinny and new. Two pennies in two days. I really couldn’t say anything to that.
If nothing more it made me think. It made me think about Nana and a multitude of other things. Most of my thoughts, naturally, landed with pictures. Two pictures in particular, the last picture I think I had with Nana from before I deployed to Iraq, and the last picture of her, which also happened to be the last time she smiled. Even though I was a thousand miles away, her last picture was with my wife, Kamila, and I.
That takes a little explaining I know. My wife had begged me to get these key chain bunnies when we went to Seoul for our anniversary and said they would be perfect to send home to my parents for Easter. I can’t say no to her, so we had our pictures taken and then the nice woman at the stand put our faces onto these two little stuffed pink bunnies. We sent them home with a box of Korean candy. They loved the bunnies and took them everywhere, even to see Nana, and so it was her last picture was with Kamila and me.
This got me thinking tonight. As I lay awake in bed what always comes to mind are memories. Memories that exist because I have a picture of them. They are not the big pictures you would think. They are not the ones that won contests or the ones that took so much time and effort to get. Honestly it is quite the opposite. They are little snap shots taken with a disposable camera. The lighting sucks. There is on camera flash. Some are out of focus. Most of them have part of my head cut off (Which is why in my family instead of ‘cheese’ we say “DUCK!”) and I am usually the recipient of bunny ears.
What is important is the picture. Nothing else matters. The hell with the light not being right, the angle being all wrong, bad hair days, and not having the right camera. At the end of the day you won’t remember that stuff as long as you have the frame (and for God’s sake print the damn things out too, holding a picture is so very different that looking at one on a computer screen.) I’ll tell you though, you sure will remember it if you don’t get the picture.
I have missed many many pictures that I look back on and I wish I had taken because time wears my memory a lot more than it fades a photograph. For example like the first time I met my wife I have no pictures of us. I was so proud that I got my 1936 Contax II to function properly, but once I printed out the pictures and saw none of us I was really disappointed. I was smitten with the girl that I had met on the other side of the pond and I couldn’t prove that she existed to anyone.
As the person in the family with a camera, you have to be that guy or girl. Force people to take a family portrait at the next reunion. As my photography hero, Joe McNally, once said, “Take a picture of a feeling.” To be honest I really didn’t know what he meant, though I thought I did. He said no matter how hard or awkward it may be, take the picture. Now that Nana is gone, I wish I had more pictures. So I will strive to take those hard to take pictures.
For now, I look at all the snap shots that I do have and I smile and I tear up too. They are the bits and pieces that make up my life’s story, and more often than not, those pictures are what see me off to sleep.
I tend to sleep pretty well too.