Photodocumentary:  Home (Click on any image to view it larger.)

Normally I don’t do severely sentimental stories, but this is one of those times it felt right.  

Once, a new neighbor moved a few doors down in my homogenous, sardine canned condo complex outside of Philadelphia.  I’d recently baked some cookies, brownies or sweet somethings and decided to welcome them by taking a plate over.  I walked the seven doors down, knocked and cheerfully exclaimed, “Welcome to the neighborhood!”.  They looked at me like I’d lost my ever loving mind.  I think he actually looked over my shoulder to see if someone was going to jump out of the bushes to attack – you know, “The Cookie Bandit!”  I never had a formal conversation with the family again; not out of disdain or anything, but just because that’s the way it sometimes is.  Things that are more likely to happen here than there.  

There is my first home.  And don’t get me wrong, my theory is that people have a million different ways of being everything from aloof to mean in every culture.  I’ve had parents of friends from home accost me on the phone to notify me I’m breaking my mother’s heart because I moved so far away.  I’m pretty sure those were not my mother’s words.

The thing is that in the rural south you’re just less likely to get the look of utter shock over cookies being delivered because everyone knows everyone and if they don’t then they will. People come and they stay and there’s less people.  So, there isn’t this constant coming and going, the way there is in cities.  Here I cannot tell you who lives below my condo and to the left one over.  There my Uncles and Aunts can tell me the details of at least one person every five miles with in 30 mile radius.  There is beauty within both of these realities.  It’s nice to be a single solitary piece in a puzzle of so many piece – to connect to, but not have to know every angle and edge you’re connected to or why or how.  On the other hand, it’s wonderful to have the woven intricacies of community where each thread overlaps and interlays to the extent that you are never truly alone unless you overtly choose to be.  

I went home for Christmas and captured these moments with my family.  The two top images of my uncle and stepfather are my favorites.  They went on, endlessly recounting stories to one another of so and so and so and so’s cousin and the cousin’s niece’s cousin twice removed.  It was amazing the generations of folklore (though they’d just call it the God’s honest truth) they could tell in one sitting – arms folded and every now and again their solemn visage would dissolve into a fit of laughter over a shared memory long past.  I was in awe.

Time passed that week with games; including our cherished favorite, Scrabble.  Yet, we’re always on the hunt for new ways to entertain ourselves.  We began to play Head Bands.  Above, my mom wears a post-it of a famous person she must identify herself as by essentially asking 20 questions.  She was an amazing Winston Churchill.  At one point she stood in the kitchen, post-it on her head, pushing cabbage through an electric dicer, making coleslaw and and asking casually, “Am I alive or dead?”  

“Oh.  Your dead!”, We replied.

My boyfriend was Andy Warhol.  He felt very sore about this as I don’t believe he can recount a painter unless said painter chopped off his ear, painted a dream, painted faces in disarray or was simultaneously an inventor.  

When the rain cleared we walked the new trail across High Bridge.  This bridge dates back to 1853.  It’s current steel structure was erected in 1914.  While these are fun facts, the truth to the warmth in my heart, as I crossed it over, was the remembrance of my father and his hard work to maintain it.  He was Bridge Maintenance Forman for Norfolk and Southern Railroad.  Year round he ensured the safety of the trains crossing over.  There are 330,000 screws, 13,000 bolts, 1,065 railroad ties (See:  http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/hig.shtml) and he inspected every inch.  As a child, he told me stories of receiving dispatches that a train was coming over the bridge and in order to avoid being run over, climbed within the framework of structure and directly under its path he held tightly to the beams.  He was 125 feet above the ground as the bridge swayed and the train passed over.  Now, it’s the longest pedestrian bridge in Virginia and one of the longest in the U.S.. (See: http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/hig.shtml)  To walk across the bridge brought me great joy to be amidst my father’s toil – his bread and butter – his day in and out.  As a child there is always a limit to how close one can come to experiencing their parent’s reality.  Even as I trekked the 2400 feet across this, now, recreational bridge I could not walk a mile in his shoes.  This was not work – dogs, joggers and leisurely strollers passed.  Yet, I could walk the distance in his steps and pay him the respect of imagining how he gave of himself for our family.