It’s interesting to me how much family history and mood can be reflected in a simple photo. A picture really is “worth a thousand words”. Never was this more evident for me than 1978.
It was a year of mental and emotional, even physical upheaval for just about everyone I cared about.
My husband and I had given up our adventure out west and moved back to be closer to family and friends; selling our home and giving up jobs in the process. That didn’t last long. I was settling in at a job in western Pennsylvania when he was offered a promising opportunity in Michigan. We left our new-found urban life for the cornfields of the Midwest.
Once again, there were tearful good-byes to our family and friends. I know it was hardest on both our mothers, who were happy to have us back in their geography, even if only for a few months that winter.
My mother was struggling with the emotional demands of the siblings still at home; one college student and three teenagers, all very strong minded, independent and willful personalities. I came to learn that there were many clashes at the time; enough perhaps to trigger the second major manic episode in my mother’s life. This time, she ran away; all the way to Jamaica.
In her troubled mind, this was the perfect solution. It started with a church-sponsored trip that she kept secret; until she turned it into a one way ticket. She was to remain in that tropical paradise, at least until the phone calls started coming in. A resort manager alerted my dad to some questionable, even dangerous behavior on Mom’s part. He quickly flew down to retrieve her, which was no easy task.
She was sedated, flown home to Philadelphia, and promptly admitted for psychiatric treatment. Meds were administered, counseling provided, and she was sent home about a month later. This was in the Spring.
By November, she was diagnosed with stage four bladder cancer; an inoperable, grapefruit-sized tumor had metastasized. The prognosis was about 2 months.
It was still 1978, and I had documented a lot of it on film, with as much sensitivity as I could for a hurting family. It started with full color photos of happy, smiling faces on our triumphant return to the family from Salt Lake City. It proceeded with sepia-toned filtering in the spring following my mother’s tropical mania. It ended that year with black and white photos of a tragic, but memorable Christmas season.
That was more emotion, both positive and negative, than had ever been reflected in a photo album, especially in the course of one calendar year. I’m thankful that I was able to document at least some of it for my family.
Photography is a powerful tool.