This is my grandma, Leona. It feels weird saying her actual name – she’s always been “Grandma” in my world. But for the sake of this post I’ll break protocol and let that one slide, but just once. I’ve been fortunate enough to grow up around the majority of my family and extended family members. I recently ventured to Castle Rock to photograph my grandma, something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. Beyond a simple sit and smile, I set out to capture her in ways that I always want to remember.
My grandparents’ home was always synonymous with Thanksgiving and Christmas, because the whole family always celebrated there. It wasn’t a question, it was never asked about (where/if the fam was getting together), it just was, always, at their house. So when I think of those holidays, I picture myself sitting in a cramped room upstairs on Christmas Eve, my tummy full of peanut butter fudge, exchanging gifts, hearing the floor creek under the weight of over 30 people on the small second floor (and what I’m sure any structural engineer would get sick over just thinking about), and listening to my uncles crack dirty jokes, play guitar, and recite the traditional storytelling of The Grinch. Read from an original copy of the Grinch, mind you, which my grandma has managed to save since clipping it out of a magazine in 1958. At some point we laminated it to ensure years of continued holiday use.
At the center of all these occasions was my grandma. Always, always making sure every one of us was well taken care of, well-fed, and happy. A well-known chocolate lover, it was no surprise what she was going to get buried in for xmas presents – boxes and boxes of chocolate. And even though she had just unwrapped her 9th gift box of chocolates of the evening, she’d smack her lips and let out a “mmmm,” or a high squealed, “chocolate!”
At 89, my grandma has slowed down a bit, but boy… does she still have her wit. A wit that has become unfiltered with age, something I truly get a kick out of, she’ll just tell ya how it is (in a loving manner). It is an interesting thing growing up with grandparents from the perspective of your earliest memories. In comparison to you as a child, they are OLD, right? Realistically, they are around 50-60’s, and as you get older so do they, and in that light, they almost seem to not “age.” My grandma has always been the grandma of today in so many ways. When I look across the table during one of our thousands of games of cards, my mind’s eye has to fight to try and see a woman with 30 more years to her life since my first memories of her.
I spent many days with my grandma, in that house, she regularly making sure my belly was full of all things unhealthy. Her fridge will forever be this mysterious box of never-ending soda. You can go over there any day and there is a giant portion of her fridge dedicated to peddling out sugar water, even today. I checked when I took these photos (*cough* and… maybe drank one). I don’t know how, but it is always fully stocked. As a child, opening the door to the glow, I knew it wasn’t a matter of if I could find soda, but dealing with the agonizing choice of which flavor to pick. This is very important choice for a kid, one that could govern how the next 15 minutes of life unravelled.
I hadn’t been involved in photography for long (maybe a couple years) when I started to get the itch to want to photograph my grandma. Well, it took quite a few more years before I got that chance. I finally set a date, loaded the car with gear, and paid a visit with some of the most iconic “grandma” images I had floating around in my head. On my way, I could only help but wonder if this was going to go over well. It’s one thing to ask for a quick picture, but then there is a Matty shoot. Granted I moved everything along very quickly, I still pulled out lighting and setup some particular shots I wanted. My grandma was awesome about it.
My grandma raised 4 boys (one being my dad), pretty much by herself, all while working as a waitress for a local diner for years and years. She never learned to drive so she walked everywhere. As I was taking her photos we chatted about the far past, which she could recall with frightening quickness and accuracy. I can’t remember what I ate for lunch yesterday, but she could whip out years, months, even days when things occurred – hell, she could probably remember the day of the week if I pressed her for it. Her first job was waiting tables at a bus station for 12 cents an hour. Yes, as in working all day, making less than a dollar (before taxes of course). Naturally, this lead to some crazy plate carrying skills. Even in at her age now, she’ll load up two arms of plates and walk them to the table. I didn’t push her for this particular shot, but we tossed a couple on.
She loves to crochet. I don’t know how she does that either, just whipping out these incredibly intricate designs with no template in front of her, yet it repeats and repeats with sniper precision. Everyone in the McDaniel family who has gotten married has gotten a huge table cloth made by this woman. She makes all kinds of things, even little animals. Next to her favorite chair there is always sure to be a crochet kit within arms reach. This was another definite shot I wanted to capture. It also allowed me to capture a wider shot of the house as well. As I posed her for a crocheting photo we talked more about this house I’ve drank gallons of soda in. A house so old it was built with square nails, she purchased it in 1961 for $5200. When I heard the price I dropped the camera from my face to inform her that the camera rig I was using to capture her cost more than her house did. Yes, the dollar has shape-shifted alright.
While crocheting away, I captured a photo of her and the photos on the wall above her. They are senior photos of the family, going back to her four boys, including a picture of me with a bad 90’s haircut.
Grandma has collected teacups her entire life, some of her collection belonged to her mom. I made sure to incorporate those into the background of the chocolate eating shot. You can also see one of her table cloths on the dining table.
It was fantastic day and I finally got to make the images I’ve had floating around in my head for years. And though she probably wouldn’t admit it, I think my grandma secretly had a good time making the photos as well. An amazing woman who I wish I could go back in time and meet when she was in her 20’s. I may never get to do that, but I now have these pictures of her forever. Oh, and Grandma, when I get married… I’m coming for my table cloth.
If you are a McDaniel family member and want prints of these, please contact me by using the contact page.