This is the longer version of an edited post dated March 19, 2020 at: https://www.babypictureproject.com/green-acres-gabrielle-shares-her-baby-photostory/
Because I like long stories.
I’m Gabrielle [or Gabby depending on how well you know me]. The photo on the left is my favorite baby picture of me. I thank my dad for sending it to me, among others! This one was taken in my grandmother Lucille’s basement, circa 1969 or early 1970. This is a guess, as I’ve been told I was practically bald for a few of my formative years. I see early whisps of hair in this photo.
I’m now 52, approaching 53 with a very unruly and thick head of hair. My 52 year-old Self still enjoys finger-licking meals as much as I enjoy cooking them — thanks to both my grandmothers and at least one grandfather, Roy [all victory gardeners and wonderful cooks] and I also thank my own mother’s talents in the kitchen as well.
I currently employ these skills at a permaculture village where we grow organic food and cook often, having weekly dinner gatherings with our larger community who also share food with us. It is one of many reasons why I came to live here. The founder, Ann Kreilkamp, also birthed The Baby Picture Project which came to my awareness via email in 2016 when I was going through a personal hell.
It grounded me immediately and helped me do a great deal of healing — and remembering.
It should come as no surprise that after spending summers and gathering for Sunday dinners with my grandparents as a child, that I would wish to live in right relation to the land and grow food. My grandparents survived the Great Depression by canning, preserving, smoking meat, and having a larder [or ‘root cellar’ as one of my grannies called it], and I learned later that they thrived because they had close-knit community which traded and bartered.
It turns out my choosing to live this way now, was a surprise to some; having different ideas of what success looks like or perhaps holding a belief that ‘infinite growth’ is possible. I’m certain that kicking the debt can down the road for future generations is something my grandmothers never cottoned on to themselves.
The big-eyed little girl had a huge love of music, family and [of course] food. She still does.
The longest secret she kept while growing up painfully quiet and shy [GET OUT!], was that she wanted to be a writer.
My young self was a watcher and listener, absorbing information like a sponge. I’d learned that my distant relative, General Lew Wallace was a poet, author [he penned Ben Hur], a military man and the 11th Governor of the New Mexico territory. I never read his book, but he fascinated me as one who knew quite a bit of controversy, even up to his death.
That controversy was explained over-romantically to me as a youngster. But it painted a picture of Wallace as a man with a poet’s heart that defied orders in a senseless war. The real story was more complicated, of course. That is almost always the case when discussing history, let alone the story of a singular human life. Lew Wallace spent years of his life trying to clear his name from hearsay and slander; after writing a best-selling novel that was called, “the most influential Christian book of the nineteenth century.”
With the advent of the internet, no life is without controversy and any story told now could be influential. I’ll never write epic fiction like Ben Hur as fiction doesn’t interest me — not when epic issues are the reality d’jour. That Lew Wallace was a writer and a poet interested me. That the art of writing is in my family tree and in my DNA, interested me. It held me steadfast — something this double Gemini child secretly nurtured in her heart — also from her Twice Great Aunt Nella — until she was 32. That knowledge made me a life-time learner, reader and an appreciator of both art and history. My own and the land called America where I was raised.
This land’s government, not so much. I have to thank artists for that wisdom as well…and the Constitution which protects [once protected?] their work, regardless of how controversial it is to many — or the few.
I deeply appreciate sacrifices made by others, including my grandfather’s service in WWII. I could experience the freedom to become who I am, find my own voice, and arrive at this moment in our shared history. Not that it wasn’t a personal battle to get here but that’s what makes good stories. Journalism is different. They ought to be scribing dutifully without bias, partisanship or thought to sponsors, but instead with due diligence for future generations to understand what gains have been made and about the cost of those gains. All of us should be concerned about the cost, not just in terms of currency but wisdom lost. The generation gap widened and became a chasm in a technological age — but there’s time to cross it and time to try. It is not impassable. The alternative is like a yodel or a rebel yell in the wilderness of A.I.
Will anyone from the next several generations hear you? Or me?
One of my favorite memes on the internet is a hand-drawn picture of a little girl and an old woman. Both hold books in their hands. Written upon it is very good advice: “The only two people you need to impress: Your 8 year old Self and your 88 year old Self.”
I’ve thoroughly impressed my 8 year old Self. I’m working toward impressing my elder Self without forgetting my 8 year old. PLAY is important! I was blessed to have great teachers in my grandparents and that they took lots of pictures of what mattered most to them. During this time, try playing behind a camera instead of in front of one, playing in the kitchen instead of sitting in front of the television, learning [or teaching] a skill that requires devices like shovels, download some seeds into a cache of soil, and listen to stories from elders. They have had experiences during times that were far harder and more challenging than what we face today. We all have a lot to learn.
I remember sitting on my grandmother’s porch in Virginia, listening to the grown folks talk about politics — sometimes heated debates between my uncles and cousins. Huffs and guffaws, points and counterpoints, their communications both fascinating and confusing to young ears. Then, inevitably, someone from inside the house would yell, “Who wants pie?!” And just like that, the debate ended and everyone got up and had dessert together. Later, the once agitated air had been forgotten, carried away in a soft lilac breeze, often replaced by the sounds of a friendly card game, crickets, laughter and sometimes a guitar.
Remember there are children watching and listening. What are we teaching them?
I leave you with my favorite agrarian elder and poet, Wendell Berry, “You can best serve civilization by being against what usually passes for it.”