Summer fun

Disclosure: I did not receive any sort of compensation for writing this post.The opinions here are my own and this is not intended to be any sort of advertisement or recommendation to go (or not go to) Rock City.

Back in April, before I even started this blog, I had to take a trip to Texas to do some work on the house that my husband and I are trying to sell. I made it a point to visit my grandma while I was there and my aunt, who was her primary caregiver, suggested that my cousins and I get together and go through Grandma’s curio cabinet.

Grandma and Grandpa traveled a LOT, both when he was serving in the military and after he retired, and most of the curios in the cabinet were souvenirs they had picked up on their trips. Among other things, Grandma had a small collection of bells she had bought at various tourist traps over the years. My cousins and I divided them up among ourselves, picking and choosing from places we had visited or stories that were important to us for whatever reason, and putting any extras into a pile for Goodwill or a yard sale later.

One of the bells had a rock formation painted on it along with the words “Lover’s Leap.” No location, no other information, just the usual Made in China label on the inside. Nobody had ever heard of it, so we looked it up. Turns out Lover’s Leap is part of a larger tourist attraction, called Rock City, that’s just outside Chattanooga, Tennessee. It’s just across the state line, so even though it’s just a few minutes outside Chattanooga, it’s actually in Georgia.

I added the bell to my pile; the following weekend, when I got back to Tennessee, my husband and I made the drive down to Rock City. If it was a place Grandma had been, I wanted to see it with my own eyes.

And what a sight it was.

It was a delightful day, and although I only had my phone with me and not my camera, I got a lot of ideas for pictures I want to take on a future visit. I probably won’t go back until sometime in the fall, when the summer heat and tourist crowds have died down somewhat, but I’m definitely looking forward to it. By that time, I should have enough experience with my DSLR to get some really great shots.

I hadn’t planned to write about this trip since it happened before I started Saga Shots, but my local newspaper mentioned this list on their Facebook page yesterday and it looked so good that I wanted to share it with you all. Rock City is GoBankingRates.com’s America the Beautiful bucket list entry for Georgia, and for good reason. It’s actually one of several tourist sites on Lookout Mountain, all of which would be great for photos or a family vacation. Next week, I’ll share the photos I took at one of the other Lookout Mountain tourist destinations, Ruby Falls. Until then, please leave me a comment and share this with your friends!

Inspiration and regret

There are no pictures in today’s post, but there is a reason for that. I hadn’t planned to write this, because it’s more personal than I had planned to be on this blog, but I feel like it’s somewhat relevant.

I think the reason I fell in love with photography can be attributed to my grandmother. She always had her camera ready to capture all those little moments. She must have filled hundreds of albums over the years, from every holiday and birthday, weddings, school events, childhood milestones, and sometimes just us grandkids on impromptu visits posed in front of her refrigerator so she could finish off a roll of film and take it to be developed.

She was a vibrant, loving person, who traveled the world but always had time for her family and friends. When I was in college, she wrote me a letter every month and enclosed a $20 in each one. Sometimes she’d mail pictures, too. I saved every letter and tucked them away in the back of a photo album.

Alzheimer’s stole her from us. I watched her fade quietly away and tried desperately to find some piece of her that I could hold on to and keep for myself forever. I learned to sew and made blankets for my cousins’ kids, her great-grandchildren, just like the ones she made for us when we were small. I learned to knit and made pretty scarves for my friends (she crocheted a little, but I couldn’t get the hang of that; knitting was the next best thing). I learned her recipes, served her meals at my kitchen table, and baked hundreds of cookies to give away at Christmas.

None of it felt quite right.

And then I picked up my camera. My albums go up on Facebook instead of the hutch in the family room, but they’re there…Every birthday party, every Thanksgiving and Christmas, engagement parties, and welcoming new babies into the family. Weddings when the bride and groom are okay with it. Whenever, wherever, however my family gets together, I’ve got the camera or I’m snapping pictures on my phone.

Grandma didn’t raise me, but she was the person I counted on as a child, my constant. My mom is mentally ill and my dad was always at work. They weren’t affectionate, and there were times when things bordered on abusive; I was frequently pushed aside or ignored. My parents did the best they could, given their personal issues, but Grandma was the one who showed me what it means to be compassionate, selfless and kind, to cultivate friendships, and be a part of a loving extended family.

Alzheimer’s may have stolen my grandma, but it left me with one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. Without it, I might never have discovered the capacity I have to love others. I used to think I was cold and heartless, but as the Alzheimer’s ran its course and took her farther and farther away, I tried to hold on to her tighter and tighter, and I realized that I would love her no matter how much she changed. It opened my eyes. It taught me the value in holding on to people unconditionally, which is something I had never fully understood before her diagnosis.

And that brings me to the point of today’s post:

I don’t have any good pictures of the two of us together; somehow we traded places behind the camera and, although I have plenty of pictures of Grandma, I never thought to ask anyone to take a nice, posed photo of Grandma and me.

Until yesterday. She died two days before.

There are some candid shots where we both happen to be in the frame, looking in opposite directions, and one picture of us when she was in the hospital sleeping, but nothing that really captures the bond we had with each other. And now there will never be any.

So make sure you step out from behind your camera sometimes. When you’re busy capturing those family moments, make sure you don’t forget to capture your own because one day you’re going to run out of chances to be with the people who are special to you. Ask someone to take over for a few minutes. Or use a tripod and your camera’s timer, or a shutter remote, or even a selfie stick.

Just don’t make the same mistake I did.