Monday, September 28, 2015

Jessica in Wonderment

How do I describe the kind of day I have had? I can tell you it ended with me crying in front of the computer some of the happiest tears ever. It started off smoothly when I took Jack over to the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum​ for a few pictures. I was behind on taking his two-year portraits. He smiled and posed all on his own. He was such a ham and it was perfect.  

© 2Js Photography
Headed to Costco and after loading my groceries, I turned to put my cart away. The woman parked next to me was also done loading her car and she said, "I'll take your cart for you, I have kids, I know what it's like." I told a perfect stranger, "I love you" and I'm not ashamed of it. That moment when another human is helpful and nice for nothing in return, so refreshing!
© 2Js Photography
Went to Caribou for some iced tea. When I pulled up to the speaker, I heard, "Weeeelcome to Caribou! Tell me what you want, what you really really want!" If you know me, you know I answered as everyone should when greeted with such a great attitude, "I'll tell you what I want, I really really want a mango black tea!" I got to the drive-thru window and he said, "You're so giggly!" I replied, "It's because you are making me happy! I wish every employee in the world could do what you do!" He pointed to a tattoo on his arm, it was a smiley face but the eyes were a semicolon. He said, "You gotta be happy through hardship, I got this to remind me of that." Then he noticed I had a tattoo. He joked, "You should have gotten that in Comic Sans!" I laughed and proceeded to briefly tell him about my tattoo. It was a family thing and the font was the Royal typewriter font, which was the typewriter my brother had. I told the barista my brother took his life over two years ago. That's when he pointed to the semicolon. I let him know I knew what that meant. He smiled and we just didn't have to say anymore. We wished each other a pleasant day and I drove off. As I left the parking lot, I realized that was the first time I talked about the loss of my brother to a stranger. It wasn't weird or uncomfortable like I figured it would be, if it ever happened. I felt relieved and a small weight had just been lifted off my heart.

I was driving home, Jack was happy and we were rocking out to music. This is the part where I feel like life is too good to be true and something is about to go wrong. And then I got mad at myself. Why do I always feel the other shoe is going to drop? And who came up with that weird saying?
Yes, life goes up and down, but just because it's going up for a moment or two or three, doesn't mean it's going to crash. Good moments are good. Bad moments are bad. They aren't related. You CAN have one without the other.
©Tracy Schuffenhauer
Then I get home to find out the Minnesota Zoo​ announced the winners of the photo contest. My daughter just happens to be in the grand prize winning photo. Have I already mentioned this today? Yes, yes I have. I think I am more excited because it wasn't my photo. If it had been my photo, I wouldn't want to brag. But because I didn't take the photo, I'm okay with mentioning it again. (I'll probably tell some people on the street about it too. Would a billboard be too much?) Sorry if you're already sick of reading about it. I won't mention it again. The zoo will though, for the rest of the year. Those gorgeous eyes are going to be gazing in wonder on the zoo wall.
The Grand Prize winning photo of the 2015 Minnesota Zoo Photo Contest!
"Rylee in Wonderment"
©Tracy Schuffenhauer
And then there's another moment with a stranger that must be recognized. I have, on more than one occasion, taken a photo of a perfect stranger because I saw a moment that needed to be captured. I have then walked over to that person or their parent, showed them the photo and asked if they wanted me to email it to them. I have given them my info and told them to email me if they wanted and I would pass the photo along. When I met Tracy, the lady that took the photo of Rylee (that won the grand prize) in the butterfly garden, I was a bit frazzled. It was pretty warm. I was sweating. I had to carry Jack because they didn't allow strollers and I had to keep assuring him the butterflies were not dangerous. He was freaked out by them and it was hard not to laugh. Rylee kept calling for me to look at all the beautiful butterflies she was spotting, while Jack wanted down and then up and then down and then up. When the butterfly landed on Rylee, it landed on her back first. I snapped a photo and then it went to her nose. Tracy was right there and asked to take Rylee's picture. I was relieved because it was such a fun moment and sure enough, I had just run out of space on my smartphone for another picture. I couldn't carry around the big camera with Jack in my arms. We exchanged emails and chatted for a bit. I told her how fun it was to meet someone that did the same thing as me! She was the perfect amount of friendly.
©Tracy Schuffenhauer
A day or so later, the emails started coming through one photo at a time. Tracy had captured several amazing photos of Rylee and that gorgeous butterfly! After the fourth picture, Tracy asked if it would be okay to enter one of the photos into the 2015 Minnesota Zoo Photo Contest. Then she asked Rylee to pick the photo. All three of us happened to like the same photo. The rest, they say, is history.
©Tracy Schuffenhauer
I feel like this experience with Tracy and the photo contest is the fruit of all those times I have talked to strangers. All those encounters that resulted in a smile on my face because someone was nice enough to chat for a moment. I hope it doesn't sound like I'm taking credit for anything in regards to the winning photo, that was all Tracy. I just feel reaffirmed in my belief that it's okay to assume the best about people. Not every encounter with a stranger is going to result in a picture perfect moment, some won't even result in a smile. When those moments come where I have the chance to listen to someone's story or share a laugh while ordering food or give a compliment to an employee or learn something new in a craft store, I will let myself be open to the possibility those moments may change my life. An even crazier thought? What if I change someone's life just by listening?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

My Place in History

Nine years ago at my Aunt Rita's wedding, my Aunt Chris, bestowed upon me, my grandfather's and grandmother's picture albums/scrapbooks. She said because I was the oldest grandchild in our family, it should be left to me. Their photos should be my responsibility. I was floored. I guarded that photo album with my life on the plane ride home. (I have since been told the photos are in good hands with me because I value them so much.)
My grandpa wrote, "My first vehicle."

I have been looking at these photos almost every other week ever since they came into my life. I realized I could do something amazing with these photos and be able to share them with everyone in my family! I could scan them and load them up on a DVD and make as many copies as I wanted. I could email them and I could make prints! Granted, there's a lot of photos, I have two kids, and this task is taking me way longer than I like.
My grandmother, on the right, with two friends.
Look at the fashion!
Just out for a bike ride.
My grandmother is on the left.

As I have been so honored to have these photos in my possession, I have come to realize I have a mission now. I have never felt a sense of purpose in my life that drives me everyday to finish what I have started. I know now that it is my job, my duty, (hee hee hee, duty) to be my family's biographer/historian/genealogist. It hit me like a ton of bricks about a month ago, I NEED to make a family tree. I need to give a family tree to my kids. I need to give them the information about their ancestors that I should have asked for when my grandparents were still alive. I was too young to know that I should have asked more questions of them. I should have asked them about their childhoods, there favorite teacher, their fondest Christmas memory, their first love, their first job, and what they felt when I was born. I was selfish and didn't know any better, how could I?
My grandmother, look at that fashion statement!
Part beach bum, part gypsy!

It occurred to me I have been documenting my life in such a way that I have been trying to leave all the information I can for my kids. When I am gone, I don't want them to have to wonder about where they came from for the rest of their lives. I don't want them to have questions about me that can never be answered. I have been saving pieces of my life for as long as I can remember. With the technology in photography these days, like digital cameras and smart phones, we have the capacity to document every single minute of everyday from here until the world ends. Sure, that has it's pluses and minuses, but I am going to attempt to snap all my pictures for fun and posterity.
Playing or trying to keep her balance.

I have also been fortunate to have in my care, John's family photos. I have helped go through my late mother-in-law's stuff and help my father-in-law and sister-in-law get rid of junk and in the process we have found treasures! Old photos in Jean's (my mother-in-law) wallet, birth announcements, and photos of my in-laws before they knew each other. Now I am also scanning photos from the other side of the tree!
Probably a bit of both!

Last night, I couldn't sleep, so I started scanning photos again. I was going through a few of my grandpa's pictures and a few of my grandmother's. (My grandpa developed his own photos for a long time, how cool is that?! He definitely had an artistic side to his photo taking.) Even if I were to inherit gobs of money, these old photos are worth more than gold to me. My grandmother, and I know technically that's who she is to me, but I frequently call her my mom's mom. I didn't know her. I knew my grandpa and I knew my grandma, my dad's mom, that was it. It seems strange to call my mom's mom, my grandmother. Last night, as I was looking at photos of my mom's mom, I kept getting tears in my eyes. She was gorgeous! (My Aunt Rita looks just like her!) She was always smiling, she looked so happy! She looked fun. There are pictures of her next to her friends, her sister, and then my grandpa. Oh how I wish I could have known her, not met her, known her. I have been told she was instantly loved by all those she met. (I know my mom is like that.) And then that's where I feel selfish. How can I long to know my mom's mom, when my mom didn't know her? She passed away when my mom was five or six. And that's when I get a lump in my throat because I can't imagine my life without my mom.
My grandfather, Robert John Wendell.
Everyone call him Bob, except us kids of course.
My mom's mom was obviously sophiticated and classy.
The only upside to never having met her is that she remains perfect in my mind.

My mom doesn't like to be in pictures. I get it, but I tell her she doesn't have a choice. The pictures aren't for her. The pictures are for me, for my sister, for my kids. My mom won't be around forever, I won't be around forever. Pictures help us keep our memories alive. I truly believe kids in the coming generations will have better memories, earlier memories, and hopefully more vivid memories of their childhoods because of all the pictures being taken. I hope to add something extra to those memories by giving my kids a family tree. Then I hope because I have taken the time to do that, my kids will ask questions of their grandparents and other family sooner than I thought to.
This could be my Aunt Rita!
It's my grandmother!

I know my purpose in life now. It's not a noble quest like being a doctor in an impoverished country, or an anonymous philanthropist, but dang it, I'm excited. I feel like I have a confidence and sense of self-worth because I know my parents. I have a great relationship with my parents. My parents are there for me and always have been. Both my parents had something severely lacking in their relationships with their parents. Because my mom never really got to know her mom, I think my mom missed out on something important that I know I have because I got to know my mom.
My grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Orr (Wendell)
Everyone called her Bess.

And my dad, well, we're on another quest together, we're trying to find out who his dad was. I'm saying this because I know it hurt my dad to learn the man he thought was his father, left a big question mark in my dad's life when he said he wasn't sure if he was the right guy, and that my grandma was the only one that would really know. That turned my world upside down when my dad told me that and my dad had that question in him almost my entire life. I didn't find out until several years ago. I know my dad. My dad has given me the support all girls need when they are little and then a whole new kind of support as I have become an adult with my own kids.
My grandparents on a boat. From the photos that were around it,
I think this is when they were dating.

My parents didn't have ideal parental situations. If I had a time machine, I wouldn't head back to see Abraham Lincoln give a speech or find out who killed Kennedy. No, I would take a trip and observe my grandpa in love with the grandmother I never knew and spy on my grandma and get some answers for my dad. I wouldn't change my parents' history. I exist because of that history.
This is one of the most beautiful photos I've found so far.
This is my Great Aunt Frances and the man that loved her, Al.
She was my grandmother's sister on my mom's side.

Now it's my turn to pass on this chaotic history to my kids. I'm just trying to give them a whole tree instead of a few branches.