My Sister’s Camera

Click on the photos to enlarge and read captions.

Although the subject of these photos seems to be mainly me, the actual subject is the photographer. I was just her compliant model..These are all photos taken by my sister Betty Jo, who was eleven years older than me. Her other frequent subject was my sister Patti, four years older than me. Since the photos seem to start when I was about ten or eleven months old, I think perhaps Betty Jo must have received a camera for her birthday the year she turned eleven. It was another time when cellphones had not been invented and even cameras were rare. I remember a black box camera and wonder if that was hers or if by then there was a newer model. Whatever the camera, she was a natural in choosing and composing shots. Betty passed away yesterday, Nov. 5, 2021, and these pictures and the following poem are my tribute to her.

My Sister’s Camera

Videos and photos are doorways to the past.
Without these visual triggers, how long would memory last?
The emphasis of daily life infringes on what’s done.
Memories of childhood? I fear I would have none
if my sister’s camera had not been there to snatch
every special moment that she was there to catch.

Her photos chronicled our lives, forestalling our forgetting,
capturing tranquility or happiness or fretting.
The fragrant past floods out from them in scents I now recall:
new-cut grass and wheat and dust. That tiny baby doll
I carried everywhere with me until its rubber rotted.
That smell of crumbling rubber with which I was besotted.

The cherry trees and trellis, those friends far in the past
The memories of dress-up that were never sure to last
without my sister catching them with her inquisitive eye.
She watched with care and caught them, never knowing then that I
would chart my childhood through her photos—life tumultuous or calm
caught there in the camera she cushioned in her palm
and clicked into the future with just one lowered finger,
insuring that my fleeting past was sure to always linger.

The pictures of her childhood were few and far between,
but the pictures that she took of us when she was  a teen
form a history of our pasts so memories won’t fade.
I wish that I had told her the difference she made.
Why do we wait too late to take time for these reflections
that might have helped us to express our genuine affections?

The last time that I saw her, months ago, so little there.
My lips upon her dry cheek, my fingers in her hair.
Conversing with her empty eyes, my attempts to reconnect
when the time was past that she was able to reflect
on her memories of taking them. What caused her action bold
to put me in the wheelbarrow when I was ten months old
and snap that classic picture. Was her camera new that day,
a present on her birthday, the 23rd of May?

Did she take other photos that I have never seen?
Besides her younger sisters, what subjects filled her screen?
We were her willing models, accustomed to the orders
of an older sister who adjusted hems and borders
to frame the perfect photo that survives to this day
to remind us of the sister who has quietly slipped away.

 

In contrast, this is the only photo I have of my sister Betty as a child. Without someone like herself to take them, she was more rarely depicted in photographs.

Prompt words today are tumultuous, fragrant, infringe, emphasis and doorway of past,

39 thoughts on “My Sister’s Camera

  1. sfruof

    I am so very sorry for your loss, Judy.

    What a wonderful tribute to Betty, in photos and in poetry. I know she was very proud of you, and felt your presence on your last visit. What good sisters you were to each other.

    Be kind to yourself in grieving her. Grief, as *you* know so well, is not a straight line or a predictable path. My heart goes out to you at this time.

    Sheila

    On Sat, Nov 6, 2021 at 9:24 AM lifelessons – a blog by Judy Dykstra-Brown wrote:

    > lifelessons posted: ” Click on the photos to enlarge and read captions. > Although the subject of these photos seems to be mainly me, the actual > subject is the photographer. I was just her compliant model..These are all > photos taken by my sister Betty Jo, who was eleven years” >

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  2. Marilyn Armstrong

    Losing a sibling to whom we are close is exquisitely painful. I lost my brother almost 15 years ago and I think I miss him more with each passing year. We had so many memories we shared with no one but one another.

    You have my heartfelt sympathies and bunches of love from both of us.

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    1. lifelessons Post author

      Yes. It always does. Most of all, I am aware that in that era when families just didn’t take many pictures, my sister was having so much fun with her camera. And I just remembered that I forgot to post one that prompted a line it the poem..Must look for it. Story of my life. But first, a hot tub…

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  3. SAM VOELKER

    Thanks Judy for opening this door to Betty’s life for us, which automatically opened the one on the rest of your family. You said some time back that her memory, due to cognitive impairment, was about gone, which is so sad~!.. The last two verses while sad, said a lot about her and your relationship.. So good that you had this last visit, though a sad one, at least you had that. I have mixed feelings about such… My friend Ginny from Minneapolis last year visited me and I insisted that we go visit her father in Dallas who was sick, though she was reluctant as there was a bit of family disagreement. Well within about a month of her visit, he passed away, and that visit turned out to be her last.

    Also a few photos of Shirley were taken when she was emaciated toward the end of her life. I can not look at them as they do not represent who she really was, but at the same time I can not make myself throw them away.. They are sealed up in an envelope with a message on it.. I hope they die with me. So I think that I know exactly how you may feel on this subject~!

    I, like Betty, was always the official family photographer from about the time I was 10 with a Kodak “Browne” and due to this fact, I progressed through years with many cameras sense and ended up with all our family photos, including those taken way back into the past two century’s. So I have been digitizing them and putting them into files for the “progeny” of my family, my being the only one left that knows who many of them are or were.

    This is what got me trying to make contact with the nieces in your area. The one I was not as anxious to find turned out to be the one most receptive to me, and vice versa (ha~!). She is on your Facebook, and mine under the name of Adelle Cordero, I knew her as “Debra”; the other one has written post on El Ojo under the name of Tarra Sabin, AKA Diedra Michelle. She and I got off to a bad (re)start due to her starting off by running my favorite sister down, which I do not allow at all; family, like political parties, should stick together and work out their differences, rather than throw stones. We may not like everything they do, but we all need to compromise, as I am still trying to do with her.

    The photo copying and identifying is going very slow because I have so many many photos and even more if you add mine of my extensive travels. Bet you have a similar problem with having too many irons in the fire..

    Thanks for this post, it meant a lot to me and brought back memories, both very good but also a little bit sad~!
    SAM

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    1. lifelessons Post author

      Sam, when I visited Betty in July, the assistant grabbed the phone from my hand and insisted on taking three pictures of Betty, her daughter Cindy and me. I meant to just humor her and erase them but I am just like you. I won’t show them to anyone else, but felt as though it was erasing her to delete them. Now perhaps I will as this is not the way I want to remember her.

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      1. SAM VOELKER

        It may be easier to erase from a camera, what mine was are color prints and more difficult to destroy, as you say erasing a sad part of the end of their story. I did not take the picture a friend of hers did and sent it to me, I guess she thought I would want the memory…

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  4. Martha Kennedy

    Wonderful photos and scarily familiar — some of the same dresses, the same carpet, more things. Crazy how limited choices were back then and possibly surprising to the current age how happy everyone was just to have any choice. You were a ridiculously beautiful child. My favorite photo is you, age one, sleeping on the sofa.

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    1. lifelessons Post author

      About a year ago, I published a photo of our living room when I was growing up. My sisters, my dad and I were sitting on the couch in front of the draped windows. Someone saw the photo, invited me over for dinner and gave me a swatch of cloth exactly like those drapes we had 70 years ago!!!! I made a pillow out of it that I’m leaning against it right now. What are the chances?

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      1. Martha Kennedy

        that’s both amazing and not. I love that you got some of that cloth and could make a pillow. That’s wonderful! The dress you’re wearing in one photo with the kind of ruffled bib on top and the plaid skirt was that black and red? Mine was.

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    1. lifelessons Post author

      Pam, I thought I had replied to this but don’t see my answer here so perhaps it didn’t send. Thanks for viewing. Betty always enjoyed talking to “Cousin Pam from Alabam!”

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  5. Victoria Stuart

    So touching, Judy. My mother got her first camera (and her father built her a darkroom!) when she was 11, as well, and when she passed away in July, I scanned boxes and boxes of the photos she took, as well as hundreds of photo albums she assembled through her 70+ years of photography. So I know the bittersweetness of the passage of a loved one who captured so many treasured moments. I feel your loss and love your tribute.

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    1. lifelessons Post author

      Are you going to publish some of the photographs of your sister, Victoria? If so, please tip me off. Sometimes I miss things in the Reader, which is how I connect to postings.

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  6. Marilyn Koester

    What a beautiful tribute to your sister Betty. It is so difficult to lose a sibling, and I feel your pain. My heart goes out to you with virtual hugs. You were there for me this summer when I lost my dear brother.

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  7. judyreeveswriter

    How I loved seeing all these photos of you and your sister and playmates. Your tribute poem to your sister is touching; what a gift she has given you (and you her, by being her willing model).

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  8. Karen Rusthoven

    My Dear Judy,
    Thank you for blessing all of us with this wonderful history of your dear sister’s legacy. You and Patti will be in my thoughts and prayers and you grieve. Sincerely and with my love always.
    Karen

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