A ring. And a pocket knife.
Two things I held dear because of the people who wore them.
Today, though, I had misplaced the knife, and was quietly tearing my house apart looking for it.
Although I was not saying I ‘lost’ it (since I could not bear to think that I might have lost it), I was saying “I’ll find it,’ an affirmation that sets my inner ‘hunter’ in motion.
Looking in a bag of mismatched earrings and old jewelry, I found the school ring from Aurora University my mom wore on her pinkie finger with pride all her life.
Mom went back to school after raising five kids, to become a teacher of other people’s kids. She was literally an ‘old school’ educator – she went from mimeographs to copy machines: no computers at that time. I remember our garage filled with crates of workbooks, paper, art supplies and decorations we would lug into her newly painted classroom each August.
My mom taught third grade in the Aurora Public Schools because she said they still had some cheerfulness and innocence in them. (By the time she retired, that was no longer the case, sad to say.) She was one of those teachers that parents would thank when they saw her in the store, whose kids waved and hugged her when she saw them in public. Like a lion tamer, she did not show any weakness or fear while she was in the cage.
How great it felt to see someone who sat in the audience watching OUR recitals and performances, sitting on stage in her graduation cap and gown, watching all the people who came to see HER. At that time she was the only older person I had ever seen going to college, and it made a powerful impression on me.
My Dad was a working-class man who carried a pocketknife; and his little silver pocketknife was in his pants pocket or on the dresser his entire life. My dad was a quiet man (you’d be that too with six girls) but though he was a bit of a loner, he did traditional Dad Things: tending his little lawn, grilling, and watching the Wide World of Sports, especially Pro Bowling (he was an expert bowler.)
He was not as big a book reader as my mom, but when he studied something that interested him, he made notes, studying what he had done and refining the process, drilling down on technique to create something that was distinctly his. This silver pocketknife was his lifelong possession, and still seemed to hold his energy.
So today with Mom’s ring in my hand, I really wanted to find where I had put Dad’s knife. Bags, boxes, drawers, bowls, under beds, in chairs, each time the guess came up empty, “I’ll find it” put new wind in my sails.
And suddenly, I am led to a new direction, a new area, and the box where it was nestled.
Not for me, but for his companion of over 50 years, whose remains live in a small bag of ashes in my home.
Placing the two objects gently together caused a deep rush of feeling and memories for all the things I loved about them both,
and I said, “Hi, Mom and Dad” like I was greeting them in person.
So while some people keep photos of their parents to remember them,
I am keeping the mana of my parents as they were in life – together.
Dorothy Perry is a Chicago portrait photographer specializing in custom family portraits, modern headshots, & personal branding for women and executives.
Contact her studio for commissioned work here.