Category Archives: family stories

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,

Grandma’s Treasures

Grandma’s Treasures

Once full of chickens, by the time I was old enough to remember, the old shed located just outside my grandma’s back door had started to fill up with other things instead. Now that I am nearly the age she was when I was born and now that the old shed and her house have been long-razed and buried, I have questions about how she managed to acquire the clutter as she was already too old to drive, if she had ever driven anything more modern than a horse and buggy.

Perhaps once even chickens were too much of an endeavor for a woman in her eighties and nineties, she had started to shift items from the big barn that stood in the near distance down a long cement sidewalk to the smaller shed: wheelless bicycles and tricycles, old buckets with holes in the bottom, assorted broken chairs and small tables and an ancient treadle sewing machine. There was nothing atmospheric about the arrangement of her collection. The paper sacks and boxes full of old clothes stacked on the chairs and tables were no doubt collected with the intent of cutting them apart to make quilts or shredding them to create rag rugs, but nibbled openings in the tops and sides of the bags as well as tiny pellets covering the floor around them attested to their colonization by field mice and perhaps rats, which probably explains why the barn cats had also moved into the old shed.

I could not imagine her dragging home the objects that filled the chicken coop. Her own children had been raised on the prairie far from town and paved city sidewalks, long before tricycles of the variety found in her shed had even been produced, and the rusted-silent sewing machine was more or less the same variety as the one she still used that sat piled with projects in her “spare” bedroom opposite the heavy hatch in the floor that, once opened by lifting it’s huge iron ring, revealed wooden stairs that let down to her dirt-floored basement room that contained the rest of her treasures: shelves floor-to-ceiling that contained home-canned food that had gone uneaten after her husband had died and my mother had started providing her with her meals, driving them down to grandma’s house herself before delegating the job to each of us three girls as we grew old enough to drive.

Dependent on others to ferry her back and forth to the few places she still went: church, Sanderson’s store and occasional family dinners at our house or my Aunt Stella’s, I know that  she was also given to roaming on her own and the remaining canning jars in her basement not filled with expired food attested to this. They were filled with clutter aplenty of a smaller variety that she collected in her pockets on her walks around the neighborhood: Crackerjack prizes,  shards of colored glass, bits of string and pretty rocks and other small treasures abandoned by children: rubber jacks balls, severed limbs of dolls, escaped marbles, rusted tin soldiers. All joined  communities of things in the old canning jars that had gone long unused for the purpose for which they were intended.

When she died, all of those objects found graves of their own as the house was razed and covered over to prepare the land for the construction of the new hospital, providing, perhaps, an interesting study for some future archeological study of life in the twentieth century, her accumulation of various objects creating a treasure trove some future civilization will value as much as she did.

Prompts today are the old shed, clutter, atmospheric, aplenty and questions. I cheated a bit on this illustration, as this is actually me with my other grandma, my mom’s mother, rather than my dad’s mother, about whom this essay was written. Since I’ve published photos of my Grandma Dykstra in the past, I decided to seize this opportunity to publish a photo of my other grandma, who died soon after this photo was taken. 

Once Upon a Time

I’ve decided that my nieces and nephews need to hear some of the old family stories of relatives in their far distant past or ones they never met. This photo sent to me by my cousin Sara today gave rise to a story when Forgottenman asked me some question about it.

The members of the group are my mother, her two sisters and the husbands of two of them. Left to right, my Aunt Peggy, Uncle Rob, my mom Pat, My father Ben and my Aunt Betty. Uncle Ed, Aunt Betty’s husband, must have taken the photo, or perhaps he stayed home and a stranger took it. At any rate, I believe it is taken on the Capitol steps in D.C. where my glamorous Aunt Betty (of Filipino Lantern May Basket fame) lived. The three women are sisters–at that time the only remaining members of a family of six sisters and two brothers.  Rob and Peggy had driven from Wyoming, picked up my parents in South Dakota and driven to D.C. and points south, going through the states of Kansas and Missouri, where the ladies were born and raised.

One of the most memorable stories of that trip was told to us by my Uncle Rob, a sparkly-eyed gentleman who happened to be the State Superintendent of Schools for the state of Wyoming but who also had a rollicking sense of humor. I adored him.

The story as he told it was that he, Rob, was driving on the Interstate or whatever the equivalent of an Interstate was in the 60’s.  As I recall, they were now in Pennsylvania and for the past fifteen minutes or so, they had passed mile after mile of big fields of grapes. Dad, a rancher and farmer, was always interested in whatever was growing and so Rob was not too surprised when they came to a turn-off, that dad asked him to pull over and stop the car.

He was surprised, however, when dad opened the car door and bounded down the ditch up to the barbed wire fence that surrounded the field, reached over the fence and grabbed a vine, tugged at it and came streaking back to the car streaming a long vine of grapes behind him, jumped into the back seat and started handing the grapes around. My dad consistently astonished and delighted my uncle who had pulled a few hijinks himself in his past, some of which I’ve related in this blog.

I think this photo is an incredible contrast to recent events on those same steps. 

Separate Vacations


Separate Vacations

I guess it was inevitable that there’d be a breach 
with you wanting the mountains and me wanting the beach.
We’re broken into moieties, with one kid choosing you
the other choosing me so you know what we’ve gotta do.
You’re fierce in your decision and my determination
to have my way as well in terms of this winter vacation
means we’ll relax in different climes—you snow and me the sun.
Then we’ll get back together once our holidays are done.
Marriages find ways to work in snow and sunny weather,
but sometimes it works for the best when they’re not faced together.


Prompt words today are beach, inevitable, fierce, moiety and holiday.

Heart of the Matter

Heart of the Matter

My family’s only easygoing when it isn’t moody,
and dealing with the moody times seems to be my duty.
If I were only liberated and in better shape,
I’d clamber out the window and down the fire escape
and find some other people easier to bear,
investigate the wider world and see how I would fare.
The solution to this problem you are likely to construe
if you interview my family, but I hope you never do,
for the truth is that the discord that you otherwise might see
is likely to have vanished when they’re not dealing with me!

Word prompts today are easygoing, construe, moody, liberate and escape. photo by Alev Takil on Unsplash, used with permission.

What are the Chances?

A while ago, (and also earlier today) in my blog, I published  this photo of my sisters and my dad and I in our living room. I think I was 8 or 9 years old at the time the photo was taken. Soon after the first time I published it, a friend here in Mexico, Janice Kimball,  called me and said she had a gift for me and could I come to dinner and she would give it to me. I did so and when she gave me the “gift” it was piece of material she inherited from her aunt that she has kept all these years and even brought down to Mexico with her. Yesterday, I made it into a pillow and this is a photo of it. What are the chances?


I was going to put it down in my hammock with other throw pillows and put it in a basket at the foot of my bed with some other materials going down to my studio or my hammock area so I’d remember to take them down, but when I went to bed last night, I happened to see it and put it on my bed instead and slept on it all night. It was so comforting I decided to leave it there.  Being in lockdown means you never have to make your bed!!  ;o)

Easter Hunts


Easter Hunts

My toy cannon muffled by an egg stuffed in its snout.
Easter grass and sugar eggs hidden inside and out.
My parents’ Easter soirees were things of grand design.
The pink nests were sister’s and the yellow ones were mine.
One disappeared behind the mirror, one behind father’s chair.
At the end, still one nest to be found, I knew not where.
Suckers, Peeps and sugar eggs, jelly beans and gummies—
sought out and stuffed in Easter baskets, then stuffed in our tummies.
My folks went to such bother, whereas I must say in truth, 
If I’d been asked, I’d rather have just had a Baby Ruth!


Prompt words this Easter Sunday are truth, soiree, disappear, cannon and mirror. (You didn’t make it east this time, folks!)



“I’ve lost my bearings,” she said to me, perplexed. She was sitting alone in her room, surrounded by piles of clothing on the bed and floor around her—the collapsed small tents of abandoned full skirts, the shards of scarves and small mismatched clutterings of shoes.

She had been abandoned in a daydream world that only she lived in, but that she seemed as confused by as she was by those of us who tried to visit her there. For her, even changing clothes had become an insurmountable obstacle—a challenge that rivaled childbirth, an unfaithful husband, an addicted son, an autistic grandson. It rivaled the war she’d staged against her much-younger sister—the power she held over that sister by her rejection of her. It rivaled her efforts to enter the world again as a single woman and to try to win the world over to the fact that it was all his fault. It rivaled her insistence that it was the world that was confused in refusing to go along with all her beliefs and justifications.

She had barely if ever left a word unspoken when it came to an argument. It was so simple, really. She was always right. That everyone in the world, and more particularly her younger sister, refused to believe this was a thorn in her side. The skin on her cheek itched with the irritation over the unfairness of the world. She had worn a path in it, carving out a small trench so that the skin even now was scaly with that road traversed over and over again by one chewed-off fingernail. “Are you she?” She asked me, and when I admitted I was, she added, “Oh, you were always so irritating. Even as a little girl. Why could you never be what anyone else wanted you to be? You were always so, so—yourself!”

It was my chance, finally, for an honest conversation with this sister 11 years older—more a crabby mother always, than a sister. A chance if she could keep on track long enough to remember both who I am and who we both once were.

“So what was wrong with how I was, Betty? With how I am?”

“Oh, you were always so . . . . “ She stopped here, as though struggling for a word or for a memory. I saw her eyes stray to the floor between the door and the dresser. “There’s that little fuzzy thing there,” she said. I could see her eyes chart the progress of this creature invisible to me across the room.

I hung on to the thought she had so recently abandoned. “But me, Betty. What do you find wrong with me?”

Her eyes came back to me and connected, suddenly, with a sort of snap that made me think we were back in the same world again as she contemplated by last question. I tried to keep judgment out of my own gaze—to keep her here with me for long enough to connect on at least this one question.

“You were,” she said, and it was with that dismissive disgusted tone she had so often used with me since I was a very small child. “You were just so mystical!”

I was confused, not sure that the word she had used was the one she meant to use.

“What do you mean by mystical, Betty?” I sat on the bed beside her and reached out for the static wisps of hair that formed a cowlick at the back of her head—evidence of the long naps which had once again taken over her life, after a long interim period of raising kids, running charities and church prayer circles, and patrolling second-hand-stores, traveling to PEO conventions and staying on the good side of a number of eccentric grandchildren.

“Oh, you know. All those mystical experiences! The E.S.P. and all those other stories you told my kids. And Mother. Even Mother believed you.”

Then a haze like a layer of smoke once more seemed to pass over her eyes, dulling her connection to this time and reality and to me.

Her chin trembled and a tear ran down her cheek. She ran one fingernail-chewed index finger over and over the dome of her thumb and her face broke into the crumpled ruin of a child’s face who has just had its heart broken, the entire world of sadness expressed in this one face. I put my arms around her, and for the first time in our lives, she did not pull away. We rocked in comfort to each other, both of us mourning something different, I think. Me mourning a sister who now would never be mine in the way that sisters are meant to be. Her mourning a self that she had not been able to find for a very long time.

“Oh, the names I have been called in my life,” I was thinking.

“Oh, the moon shadows on the table in the corner. What do they mean?” She was thinking.

The last time I gave my sister a fortune cookie, she went to the bathroom and washed it off under the faucet, chuckling as though it was the most clever thing in the world to do. She then hung it on a spare nail on the wall.

When I asked her if she needed to go to the bathroom, she nodded yes, and moved in the direction of the kitchen. Then she looked at the news scroll on the television and asked if those were directions for her. If there was something she was supposed to be doing. And that picture on the wall. What was it telling her she was supposed to do?

In the end, I rubbed her head until she fell asleep, covered her and stole away. I’d fly away the next morning, leaving her to her new world as she had left me to mine from the very beginning.

Prompt words today are hang on, contemplate, daydream, bearing and surround.

Predisposed to Erudition


Predisposed to Erudition

Central to dad’s disposition
was his need for exposition.
Topics such as  soil condition,
family stories, nuclear fission,
required a bit of erudition.
And every tale’s newest edition
had its own unique rendition.


Today’s prompt word was disposition. Here is the link:

Early Bird

Early Bird

The party got much better right after you walked out.
You would have really liked it, I can say without a doubt.
The cornucopia of desserts you brought was a definite hit,
but as we enjoyed its bounty, we wished you hadn’t split.

The baby took his first step and Grandma came alive
as though for this Thanksgiving, her memory she’d revive.
Cousin Shirley was a panic and the kids performed a play—
the whole family there to see it (if you had chosen to stay.)

So, the freeway was in gridlock from five o’clock to eight?
Negotiating lane changes was hurry up and wait?
By the time the party ended, traffic was flowing freely.
Uncle Arthur breezed right by us in his classic Austin Healey!

Everyone got home okay. We were in bed by nine—
about the same time you got home from waiting in that line.
Hearing old family stories may not be your favorite thing,
but versus overheated engines, they have a certain zing.

Splitting out on family may not be a  crime,
but did leaving three hours early save you any time?
When you’re in the biggest hurry, you’re  most frequently delayed.

You might have gotten home faster if only you had stayed!


Word prompts today are cornucopia, hurry, negotiate and delayed. Here are the links: