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Art Photography By R John Ferguson


LIFE IN THE MIRROR

     Looking back at our lives I remember many things that were from a simpler time. My younger sibling every Sunday would climb on our father’s lap and her eyes would sparkle at the many things she saw and would hear as our father read the happier stories from his “LIFE” magazine. I honestly could not swear to the date but sometime in 1940 our Father joined the army and it was nearly 4 years before we saw him again. His name was Harold and he advanced to the rank of Sergeant when he came home; during his absence the LIFE magazine continued to be delivered.  There was a new issue on the family table shortly after our Father left for the Army and it was the first Sunday that my sister did not hear the words being read by our father. This is where the reason for my story of my sister and her life with LIFE the magazine.

     This particular Sunday sis put on a new lace blue dress and she wore it to church. Later, following church she retired to her room and read Dad’s LIFE magazine. LIFE had featured many images, stories, and a lady on the cover in a black and white image wearing a large brimmed hat I peered into her room as she sat in front of her mirror reading and her eyes seemed to widen with wonderment. I found the magazine she was reading and began keeping a journal just to be able to share with our dad when he would return. The issue was dated March 4, 1940 and my journal and her image I took from the hallway were now the beginning of what would be a short run and something to look back on later.

     My sister we will call her Kathleen just to have a name to make her more real to anyone that sees this. Every Sunday like clockwork sis would dress in her blue gown, go to church, return home, do her chores, and then retire to her room and another LIFE magazine. Shortly after dad came home in 1944 sis grabbed his newest issue of LIFE, went to dad’s favorite chair where she sat years earlier listening to him read. Dad read that Sunday and the next Sunday before returning to the Army.  Once again dad was leaving to return to his unit and to my surprise sis did not wear her blue gown to church as she had for over four years. Her first Sunday since dad left again she simply came home grabbed his newest edition of LIFE and sat in dad’s chair and read to herself. All I could do was walk past her and smile. I felt her days at the mirror in her room were over and a new beginning was on her horizon.

     Sis was born in 1924 on July 6th and I was nearly 2 years older. The year this mini saga picks back up was when sis graduated from our hometown college and was on her way to becoming an educator. I was already writing for a newspaper and submitting photographs for our readers. Nearly every time I took a photo I thought of the image I took of sis. That photo taken back in 1940 seemed to stay with me always. A point of interest to anyone that may read this someday; in 1935 I was 13 years young and got my first camera. What a chump I was taking photographs with new technology that left me wondering why my photos were blurry, poorly lit, and simply worthless. That noted for posterity; I spent many days reading about successful photographers like Adams, Weston, and also self-teaching myself to properly use a camera. By 1940 one of the best color images I took was of Sis, in her blue dress, reading a “LIFE Magazine.”

     Mid July 11th 1971, I was called by our mother to return home regarding our Father’s passing. The day of his services were held on Sunday July 18 to allow time for the family to gather from many locations. Once home I was surprised to see my room intact as I had left it many years earlier. As I wandered the halls and visited rooms I had not seen I was amazed to find it was almost like livening in a time capsule. Each room was a visual memory of many yesterday’s gone by. Nothing had prepared me for what I was to see when I got back downstairs. A slightly taller version of sis wearing that same blue dress she wore every Sunday for nearly 4 years until dad came home.

     Following services is when my mini journal began to get a new life as sis grabbed the newest issue of LIFE MAGAZINE and promptly headed upstairs to her room. Amongst all the sorrow of this day, there blossomed a happy memory of our yesterdays. I grabbed my camera a few minutes later, went up the stairs, much like 30 plus years ago I once again took a photograph of sis as she sat at her dresser reading the magazine.

 

     I returned home a few days later and developed the film in my camera. I was stunned by Sis’s image and retrieved the earlier image to compare it. Sis was taller now, a new lamp was in her room, but it was if time stood still for her and the magazines. This moment is when I decided to leave the warmth of Orlando, Florida and return to my mid-western beginnings. Sadly it was another decade before that would become a reality. I met mom at the old homestead in 1982 a week before her 80th birthday. I found sis too had moved back and mom smiled and said you make it a point to be here Sunday for a surprise worth seeing.

     Sunday finally came and following church services mom and sis came up the porch steps just as they had in our youth.  Once inside I received a smile and a wink from mom, a quick wave from sis before she pulled the LIFE magazine from the table and went to dad’s favorite chair to read. For just a moment I was stunned by the lack of a hello but the sight of her in dad’s chair was all the welcome home I needed.  I met Kathleen’s husband for the first time. Sis is Scottish by birth and her mate was a handsome young Irishman named Aidan an accomplished guitarist with a very intriguing guitar. A brand I never heard of called a Kremona Solea Classical Guitar. Aidan had purchased this while in Spain. These were used by players called: “tocadores.” Their style is well known for Flamenco dancers and the technic is referred to as toque.

     I do not wish to leave the journal of sis and “LIFE magazine” but I too have a life and a wife that I have left out of this journal of life! She is M. J. and I have always called her Betty Lou! Through photography we have been honored and humbled to have photographs hanging in New York City’s Agora gallery, the Tythe gallery in Bridgenorth Shropshire, England, the Ballyshannon in Ireland, and someday we will look back on our life and hopefully have many smiles as we have gotten over the years. While I have left the journal momentarily I will reveal that sis religiously visits mom every Sunday, reads the “LIFE magazines” that still arrive in our Father’s name.

     The journal takes a new turn following mom’s 90th birthday of February 15, 1993. Her health is failing and once again the family is asked to return home for what may be a final visit. Mom true to her nature made certain the atmosphere was of happiness and joy to see so many family members that we had missed over the years. While there was joy there was also a dark cloud looming for life as we knew it was nearing a change. Regardless, March came that year, mom and sis went to church and yes sis came home and read another “LIFE magazine while sitting in dad’s chair. I sat in the kitchen with Betty Lou sipping coffee and thinking how it was as if time itself stood still for so many memories to be born. March came in like a lion and softly crept out like a lamb.  Mom passed on March 23, 1992 and following services the following Sunday Sis came home still fitting in her blue dress, smaller than she seemed in years past. Sis was now 69 and I was shocked as sis entered our old home, grabbed the “LIFE Magazine” turned to me and said: get your camera ready this is the last time I will wear the dress. She then smiled and said keep this in mind; I was sitting at my dresser the last two times you stole a photo of me. It has a mirror and you did not get away with anything. With that the final photograph in that tired old dress was taken. She looks smaller and frailer in the mirror; but it is her story of “LIFE” in the mirror and I was just fortunate to be included with my camera.

Dedicated to Betty Lou