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.