I Almost Missed the Point

I recently stumbled upon a photograph of my Great Grandma Rilee. It’s one of the few I have of her. She’s who our Rilee was named after. I thought it would be a nice photo to have in the girls’ room and that they, especially Rilee, would enjoy having it there.

I found a frame and placed it on their bookshelf right at their eye level and it makes me smile every time I step into their room.

I was young when she died but I remember Great Grandma as a thoughtful, soft-spoken but strong woman who was full of love for her family and friends. Reminds me of someone else I know who happens to share her name (well, except for the soft spoken part sometimes).

Tonight, as we’re putting the girls to bed I noticed that the bottom half of her picture appeared to be stuck to the glass in the frame. I could tell that the photo had gotten wet. Really wet. I panicked. Not only is it one of the few photos I have of her, it’s the only copy I have and it was obviously shot long before the digital age. No backup on a hard drive. No re-prints to be made and I don’t have the negatives.

Without my great grandmother’s thoughtful, soft-spoken style I immediately barked, “What happened to this picture? Who did this? This is the only copy I have and I’ll never be able to make another one.”


Everyone, including Chris, came up blank. No answers. No idea what happened. Frustrated and upset I watched and listened as the girls said their bedtime prayers before we kissed them goodnight and tucked them in.

It wasn’t long before I heard that creak that only comes from the girls’ door. Little footsteps pitter-pattered their way into the kitchen where I was putting dishes away. I couldn’t tell from the footsteps who was headed my way. Roo rounded the corner with a sad look on her little, round face. Big brown eyes stared up at me but there were no words.

I assumed it was a stall tactic or that she was sad about my upcoming trip out of town. After several “what’s wrongs” and with tears streaming down those little, round cheeks, in soft-spoken voice she said, “Mama, you know that picture? That picture of your great grandma? I was just trying to get the dust off of my bookcase so I got some toilet paper and I got it wet…”

And she broke down. And it was all I could do to not break down, too.

As a photographer we get caught up in the notion that images are everything. Our photographs are all that we have to help us hold on to memories. I was wrong. And I was missing the point.

Yes, I cherish my photographs, but in this case the photograph isn’t what matters. What matters is that my daughter was thoughtful and strong enough to tell the truth – no matter the consequence.

And what matters is that my heart is full of love for this gift of a little girl who, at the age of eight, is already more than I could ever dream she would be.

And what matters is that I have her. And no piece of paper marked with ink will ever match that.


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