Today we remember Theresa Jackson and the smile that would warm the darkest of days and penetrate the darkest of hearts. We will miss her.
This is a picture I took the last time I saw her on February 26 of this year at the Say Their Names Memorial exhibition at the Brazosport Center for the Arts and Sciences. She was there as one of the organizers. Of course.
Read more about her life in today’s edition of The Facts.
The Brazosport Fine Arts Council is sponsoring a workshop by Ron Rozelle that is designed to help people with memoir writing.
It will be held online with remote sessions via Zoom. Mr. Rozelle is a published memoirist and historian. I have signed up and I hope readers of sotlj.com will also sign up. If you are serious about writing interestingly of your own life for the sake of your children, grandchildren or just for the sake of satisfying your ego, it will be worth a hundred bucks or so. (It will be $125 if you are not a member of BFAC.)
Mr. Rozelle has done it successfully and I am sure he can help us. Here is a link to the workshop information and registration. Please join me there on January 2.
I can see us all having a great time and learning a lot from Mr. Rozelle and from each other. The writing should make for some interesting sharing among some of the most interesting people who inhabit this charming South of Town place we call home. I know a few of you who read here and I know that you have had interesting lives and careers. I would like know more about you.
If you don’t know Ron Rozelle, just Google the name or, better yet, put it into an Amazon book search. You can read samples of some of his writing. And you will wish you were able to write like him.
While others may have felt cut off from the rest of the world during the lockdown year, I was using it to catch up the things other Americans were doing in the 2010s. Back then, some of the Americans I know best were studying the lifestyle of early 20th Century British peerage as revealed in Masterpiece Theater’s Downton Abbey.
Having lately been of a mind to ask the Brits come run things again, I thought maybe I should catch up. I have dropped that notion since the successful election of a candidate faithful to democracy and rule of law. Still, we may yet have a need if the skewing of the census has the intended result.
So, I binge-watched Downton Abbey. I had avoided it even as the rest of my family in three different states bathed in it every week for six years. It seemed too much like soap opera. Will Edith attempt to attract another of Lady Mary’s suitors in their lifelong drama of sibling rivalry? Will Cousin Violet succeed in imposing her will on “those other Crawleys” and find a way to keep the fortune under His Lordship’s control? That sort of thing.
Even as members of my family urged it on me, I had resisted until the most wise Amazon Prime algorithm informed me that I should watch it. I have learned to trust the Algorithm. It knows what I buy, what I browse, what I watch and listen to and read. (Thankfully I don’t have one of those speakers that report private conversations to Mr. Bezos.) With all that information to crank through the Algorithm, I felt that Amazon must know, better than I know myself, that Downton Abbey was right for me and I was right for Downton Abbey.
So I spent a few weeks watching one or two episodes a night until, about four or five episodes in, I caught myself talking to the characters on the screen, advising them what to do or, more often, what not to do. To the gentlemen — be careful around Lady Edith. Or to anyone — watch out when Lady Cora dip-tilts her head forward and to the side a notch and peers at you through her eyebrows. And since that is the way way Lady Cora looked at everyone all the time for all six years of the series, I suppose the message was to always be careful around her. She can drag a secret out of anyone and she can’t keep one longer than one episode.
On the subject of secrets, the entire household — from lord to footman — seemed to fuel their lives around secrets. They simply couldn’t be level with one another. It made for a dysfunctional family upstairs and a toxic workplace downstairs, but they all loved their king. There you have all the makings of a good soap opera and a stable society where people can live together in peace and happy servitude.
After watching the assault on the Capitol by Trump’s brown shirts, the soap opera life of the Earl’s household seems an attractive alternative to rule by the Bad Boys. Maybe the Queen would have us back as members in good standing of the empire. At any place in the social strata, peer to pig farmer, life would surely be better than under rule of the American insurrectionists.
And maybe this is the simple wisdom revealed in Downton Abbey: pig farmers and peers had something in common that bonded them into happy little towns that made British society work. Wrestling sows in the mud was a livelihood for one and, for the other, a duty involved in preserving the ancestral line and estate.
Well, I’m being unkind to Lady Mary. Strike that last sentence.
I have a friend who has been periodically emailing updates to old friends from his retirement home out of state. Today’s update began with an admission that he has been somewhat depressed lately, like Michelle Obama, as he pointed out.
Sadly, this is the same friend I burdened with a six page lamentation for his reading enjoyment a few days ago.
Friend, you know who you are. I owe you my sincere apology. But thank you for your email today. In it you said some things that spoke for me. You called it a rant. I call it a prose poem. Here are his words, sans his original formatting:
I resent like hell the Cheeto-faced narcissist calling my father, father-in-law, brother, and even a cousin or two Losers and Suckers. Shame. Recent revelations regarding his pandemic response are proving to be even more shameful, if not criminal. [My wife] and I have been fortunate these last six months that we have been a few degrees of separation from a close friend or family member becoming infected or dying. However, at the current rates, promulgated and exacerbated by lies and “down-playing”, I fear that that may not be the case by year’s end – 200K is [250K] too many. I recall a number of co-workers coming into my office on Election Day almost four years ago to gleefully and proudly announce that they had cancelled my vote. I wonder…Are they still proud about what these last four years have brought? Are they still gleeful?
He speaks my heart. Thank you, old friend.
Things don’t change much here in Lake Jackson. You ask, “are they still gleeful?” Probably they are. Yes, that’s a Trump-Pence sign peeking around from behind the Randy Weber sign in my neighbor’s yard.
Those “coronavirus walks” are a thing of the past. The heat-humidity index has regularly pushed up to 106 and even higher in the afternoons. Without the neighborhood walks, there can be no more chance meetings with old friends, no more handovers of delicious tomatoes from a neighbor’s backyard garden.
Notwithstanding the heat, I cannot resist a chance to shoot a few pictures when occasions present themselves. Friday morning, I looked out the window and saw that a neighbor had one of those celebration signs in the front yard. I went out to see what the occasion was and it turned out to be for their 50th anniversary. When I heard voices outside later, I gathered up the camera with the wide angle lens and sped out to see if I could get a picture of them.
It was a low exposure risk with a high payout in terms of a chance to help them celebrate their big day. We visited (from a proper distance) and I learned that their kids had arranged for the sign – a nice alternative to the kind of super-spreader parties that usually accompany the 50th.
I had received a call a few weeks ago to see if I could take a few photos for the drive-by kickoff for the virtual Vacation Bible School compassion camp. There will be some Zoom meetings and each child received a yard sign and an activity kit for the price of a donation to the local food pantry.
We were all checked in properly with a brief personal health and exposure quiz and temperature check and then we were given matching red masks and t-shirts with the “Be Loved, Be Kind, Be You” camp motto. Each team got a bottle of hand sanitizer and all the equipment for their stations.
God knows (really) that we need to teach children about compassion and generosity while those principalities and powers (aka DJT) glorify selfishness with daily tweets that are followed by millions.
And, in case anyone wanted to make fun of a kid for signing up for compassion camp, we had this bouncer assigned to deliver a Wesleyan quadrilateral to his mid-section. He wasn’t taking any guff off anybody.
So, there you have it friends. It was my nineteenth weekend in lockdown and it was a blast. What isn’t there to love about celebrating an anniversary with a neighbor and taking pictures for a Compassion Camp for kids?
Compassion Camp has to be an improvement over the vacation Bible school I attended when I was a kid. There were so many things they tried to teach me. But there was only one truly unforgettable experience and that was the “goat milk and unleavened bread” simulation they required us to force down one time before we could enjoy punch and cookies. It was to help us understand something we read from the Old Testament. It must have had something to do with goat milk and unleavened bread.
Buttermilk and graham crackers, I now know, are nothing like goat’s milk or unleavened bread. Although the crackers are clearly unleavened, they are nothing like bread of any kind. And crumbled up in buttermilk, they seemed designed to set off an eight-year-old’s gag reflex. And we sang “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus.” A man who could turn water into wine would never have done that to a child. That’s not what he meant by suffer.
There is just too much time for memories when you have been locked in for so long.
A great friend and photographer, Ed Christman, passed away June 30 after battling with Parkinson’s for many years. A few years ago, after his tremors became profound and disabling, he had a surgical procedure that helped some but it could not protect him from the continuing ravages of the disease and time.
Ed was my photography mentor. I met him sometime in the 1980s or 90s when he was Dow’s head photographer. I worked at United Way and we needed a volunteer to help us with our color brochures and other campaign graphics.
I was surprised to learn that Ed didn’t mind talking to a family snapshot photographer about some of the finer points of getting good photos. He didn’t pretend that better equipment makes you better photographer. Mind you, as a corporate photographer, Ed had the good stuff but it was apparent to anyone who watched him work that his genius was in positioning, distance, relationship with human subjects, ability to read the light and a lot of other things that the camera can’t do for you, at least not with the same degree of perfection as a human who understands his machine and knows how to make it do what he wants it to do.
This is a photo of Ed I took eight years ago when we worked together on some publicity shots for “Dividing the Estate,” a Horton Foote show being produced by Brazosport Center Stages. I felt happy to tag along with Ed, mostly to see how he went about his work. You will notice in the photograph that he has adorned his flash with that photographer’s cheapest and most cost-effective gadget, an index card flash reflector. But he did have the nice Nikon gear. I followed him around with my little point-and-shoot (a pretty nice one actually – the Canon Powershot G11) and got a few fair shots. Ed’s, of course, were spectacular.
The things he did with light outdoors gave me an education in the possibilities for softening natural light on sunny days. His interaction with people who were posing for him struck me as being icing on the Nikon cake. Equipment alone could not explain the cooperation he got from the play’s actors. He didn’t ask people to say cheese, he made them feel happy to be on the other side of the lens from such a genuinely nice and happy man.
There wasn’t a lot of energy in him for show photography after that. He came out to The Center in November that same year to take some publicity shots for the Elizabethan Madrigal Feast. He allowed me to post a few of them on my Flickr site so others could view them. He was a little too early for Instagram and all the online toys that photographers like to use now. But he was happy for me to put some online for the cast to see. They are all carefully attributed to Ed. I do that even though it would be apparent to anyone that the difference between his shots and mine would quickly show me up as a photo-plagiarist. Here are a couple of Ed’s shots from that November EMF shoot.
I was stunned by the beauty of his work. Here is the steward bearing the wassail. And, then, there is this Dutch master. I found this one to be simply breathtaking.
When our son got married in 1999, we asked Ed to do the wedding. That, if you remember, was back when photographers used film. What Ed did with that film was remarkable.
Nor was there anything fake or plastic about Ed’s presentations. No scrapbooks, silver frames, special sets for Grandma and Grandpa. All you got from Ed were packets of prints and negatives. No watermarks. No special permission for reprints. No proofs to pick from.
I will never forget when he came to our house after the wedding with about twenty packages of color prints and negatives. He left them with us. That was his total presentation. I asked if he wanted us to go through them and pick some for final printing.
“No, they are all yours. You may print as many as you wish.” He recommended a local photo printer who could give us any size, matte or glossy, and who had scrapbooks, mailers, frames, etc.
He left and we started to go through the envelope – twenty envelopes, each with 36 exposures. They were almost all beautiful photographs. I don’t think there were half a dozen throwaways in the whole batch. The man wasted no film. It was one of the most amazing things I had ever seen.
He had no need for PhotoShop. In fact, his wife has told me he detested it mightily. His philosophy was that you should do it right when you open and close the shutter. And sure enough, all but a few were perfection. He made a precise exposure and an elegant, perfect composition with each frame. I am still in awe of his art and his skill in coaxing the best work out of the camera.
We had one more wedding to go after that. Needless to say, we asked Ed to do it again. By then he had moved to digital. I have also stored a few of those on my Flickr site. Again, his art is at another level. Those wedding photographs he took of our children have given us anchors in time on two of our happiest days. Ed was able to see those life events with the same intensity of feeling that the parents felt on those days and he captured them for us to enjoy for all these years. All these years later, they live on.
Ed was a photographer trapped in a literary family of writers, teachers, and actors. I don’t know which of them was the primary author of his obituary, but whether by the Christman team or one individual author, they have said it best:
While raising his family, Ed became one of the most popular photographers of Brazoria County. Early evenings—when the light was perfect—weekends, and holidays were filled with portraits, weddings, celebrations. Attired in a utility vest and a broad-brimmed hat, he captured moments of joy, solemnity, achievement, honor, camaraderie, daring, and love. Ed taught people to see, to focus on the light in the eyes, to find a person’s best angle, and—as light does—to illumine the beauty sometimes concealed by shadow. In his art, whether a portrait, a candid shot, a cityscape, an industrial, a shell in the sand, or an old oak draped in Spanish moss at dusk, Ed found the uncanny perfection hidden in plain sight. He showed us ourselves and our world as only he could see them.
We miss Ed’s presence in our community. But he has captured time for us in photography’s special way. We see the images and we feel those moments again. Thank you for those treasures, brother Ed.