When I went out to the car this evening, I was shocked to see that the flag in front of the house was torn almost in half. I had planned to replace it because one corner had gotten snagged on rosebush thorns and was torn. I had no idea that it rip asunder like that. I knew we had gotten a little wind, but I didn’t think it was strong enough to do that.
I’ll replace it tomorrow if there are any left in town after all the Trump rallies.
I don’t want to belabor the point, but I’m afraid that flag is a symbol of this nation: ripped almost apart, and hanging on by a thread.
My First Grade Flag Drawing
When I was kindergarten age, my morning ritual was to eat breakfast, then head out to put out my tiny American Flag. In the evening or in bad weather, I’d bring it in. One night, we had been out for a drive and got back home after sunset. I was in tears because I had violated the Flag Code.
This first grade drawing is probably why my Art 101 prof at Ohio University said, “It’s a good thing you’re a photographer.” To be honest, the work I handed in to him wasn’t much improved.
Mother’s flag a focal point for “so long” pix
Mother had a Flag she put out almost every good day, and brought it in at night. It was used for many, many family backgrounds. We had two family traditions: we always tried to take a “so long” photo (Mother never said “goodbye, so we scratched it on her casket), and when we left the house to go on a trip, we’d give two toots on the horn.
My frozen Flag
When I bought the house after Mother died in 2015, I moved the flag holder to the front of the house, installed dusk to dawn lights and flew an all-weather flag 24/7.
I said that in these times when groups are wrapping themselves in the Flag, I wanted to demonstrate that it was MY Flag, too.
An ice storm in 2018 made it look almost like a painting.
When Son Adam and Grandson Elliot visited St. Louis, it was convenient for us to see the Missouri Botanical Garden Glow because Brother Mark and his wife, Robin, live on Flora Place, right at the edge of the park. It was only about a two-block walk to get to the entrance of the Glow, which promised a million lights.
There were “picture frames” dotted about where you could stand in line to make “art.” There was a brisk wind blowing on our way to the display, but it died down to a chilly, but not horrible evening.
Click on any photo to make it larger, then use the arrows on the left and right to scroll through the top three pictures. To see ALL the photos, you’ll have to go to the gallery below.
Like a pig in a python
I didn’t shoot a lot of photos. The lighting was spectacular, but the crowds were so heavy that I felt like a pig in a python, being inexorably pushed forward.
Another challenge was that the lighting was constantly changing colors. You’d get ready to capture one effect, then, just as you were getting ready to press the shutter release, everything would change. That was great for watching, but hard to photograph.
At that point, you could either hope the right combination would cycle back through, or you’d start walking.
Gallery of lighting exhibits
Click on any of the gallery images to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the picture to move through the gallery.
Bear with me while I get around to my real topic. When I started kindergarten, we stopped moving from job site to job site in a small trailer and settled down in a rental house at 2531 Bloomfield Road. I could look out my bedroom window to watch the traffic on Hwy 61 in the distance.
One morning around 2 o’clock, when I was six or seven years old, I woke my parents with a strange pronouncement: “I just realized that I will never see those cars and trucks again.” What I meant was that the world was fluid, and the folks who were flying down the highway would never appear in that configuration ever again. I can clearly remember saying that, but I’ve managed to suppress their reactions.
That’s the moment when I think I became a photographer, even though it was half a dozen or more years before I would actually pick up a camera.
You see, while other kids were dreaming of time machines that would let them go forwards or backwards in time, what I really wanted was something that would freeze time and never let it get away.
The “see you later” picture
I’m not exactly sure when I started taking a photo every time I left Cape. Maybe it was when I realized that Mother and I lived 1,110 miles apart, and she was getting to the age where every goodbye might be the last one. Maybe that’s why always said, “See you later,” rather than “Goodbye.”
Most of those photos were taken in the living room, or outside in front of the living room window, or at Kentucky Lake. Most recently, I started posing Mother with family, friends and road warriorettes under the flag at the side of the house. The light was good there, and the colors vibrant.
Even though we were usually smiling, the ritual had its bittersweet moments. I learned early on that once I had climbed in the car, I had to pull out of the driveway, give two toots on the horn and disappear. If I needed to fiddle with anything in the car, I did it out of sight of the house. Those smiles were fragile.
I was afraid this might be the last picture
Mother had 92 good years, but she started slowing down in the fall of 2014. She was using the clothes dryer instead of the clothesline; she would still hop in the car to ramble, but she usually wouldn’t get out. By the spring of 2015, she had gotten to the point she couldn’t walk by herself and she would fold up in a C-shape and roll out of the chair if you weren’t watching her.
I had to go to Ohio to set up a major photo exhibit, so Brothers David and Mark came to Cape to spell me.
There was no way she would make it outside for the traditional flag photo, so I brought the flag inside. I spent about 10 days in Ohio waiting for The Phone Call, but it didn’t come. Mark, David and Mother came to the conclusion that she needed more help than we could give her, so she agreed to go into the Lutheran Home to build up her strength so she could come home, even if she needed assistance.
Couldn’t make it to the wedding
After a few low spells, she seemed to rally. She decided that she didn’t have the energy to make it all the way out to Tulsa for Granddaughter Amy’s wedding on June 20 – “I have to save my strength to be able to go home” – but she WAS able to speak with the new bride and groom via Facetime right after the ceremony.
One good thing about having the wedding was that my two sons and their families stopped by Cape on the way to Tulsa and had good visits. She perked up and told them stories that even I hadn’t heard. In the four-generation picture above, she has the dress she had worn to two weddings, had planned to wear in Tulsa, and had asked to be buried in.
I didn’t take a last picture
I checked in with Mother, did some prep work for the coming Dutchtown flood, and blasted out of town on Saturday June 20 to make it to the Tulsa wedding. Mother was in good spirits and seemed satisfied that I’d be back in a day or two. For the first time in probably a decade, I didn’t take that waving goodbye photo.
I had car trouble, so I called Mother Sunday night to tell her I’d be a day late getting back to Cape. Her voice was strong, and she didn’t seem concerned.
Monday morning, at 7:10, I got The Call from the nursing home that Mother was found dead when they went in to get her for breakfast.
As close as I can figure out, this is one of the last, if not THE last picture I had of Mother. She’s holding her new great-grandson Finn, and they are both enjoying it. THAT’S the image I want to hold onto.
Mark sent me a letter “not to be opened until June 23.” He closed it this way:
As I find myself at the bottom of this page, I couldn’t decide which to end it with, so you get both. Put it into context if you will. (Enclosed was a photo Mother sitting in his kitchen.)
“My memory loves you. It asks about you all the time.”
“Sometimes memories sneak out of my eyes and roll down my cheeks.”
Stories about Mother
I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford a Missourian obit that told all of the stories I had collected about this remarkable woman, so I complied them into one big blog post, followed by an account of her funeral.
Brother Mark turned 60 on March 10. It’s hard to believe. It seems like it was just yesterday that Mother, Son Adam and I snuck up to St. Louis to attend a surprise birthday party for his 50th trip around the sun.
This picture was taken when he and Robin got married September 8, 2014. Dad’s construction company had a whole bunch of padlocks with a key code of 2406, so we used them over the years on family locks in at least four states. Giving a 2406 to Robin meant that she was now, officially, a Steinhoff.
One of my all-time favorites
This shot of Mother and Mark in front of the trailer at Kentucky Lake is one of my favorite pictures of the two of them. Sometimes you’d love to be able to go back and relive a moment.
Mark through the years
I’m not going to use ALL of my Mark pictures for his 60th. He may have a few more birthdays to go, and I need to dole them out. Click on any photo to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move around.