Wednesday, January 24, 2007


To say that I loved my grandmother (Bonnie) is an understatement. My world revolved around her. Unfortunately, the earth came to a screaming halt in 1973 when she died suddenly from a heart attack. I was 10-years-old. I've experienced my fair share of pain over the years. I stepped on a broken beer bottle and sliced open my bare foot when I was 5. I nearly chopped off my thumb with an axe when I was 30. Last summer, at age 43, I slammed my forehead on the doorway of the chicken coop so hard that I fell to the ground and was nearly knocked unconscious. These painful experiences, even when combined, pale in comparison to what I felt after my grandma died. I'll be the first to tell you that it never truly goes away and every once in while something will poke at the scar and remind me all over again.

Fortunately, I have some remarkable memories of Bonnie. I remember the tiny white lipstick samples she had in her bedroom (she sold Avon). I remember she always chewed a half-stick of Doublemint gum. I remember the dust clouds that would erupt from her purse when she pulled out a tattered tissue. Most of all, I remember how she used to make me laugh.

Bonnie was a doodler. If there was a pen in her hand and a telephone in the other, any scrap of paper within her reach was fair game. An envelope was her favorite canvas. At around age 4, Bonnie started drawing "dirty" pictures for me. By "dirty", I mean things like men dressed in business suits and hats standing with their flies open and their "dingers" (thank you Lynda Barry) hanging out (and sometimes she'd draw them peeing)! Women were either toppless or bottomless but never completely naked (what can I say, the woman had class). She'd also draw dogs or cats (and sometimes people) "pooping"! This of course, made me giggle, which in turn, made Bonnie laugh.

The only one not laughing was my mother. It used to infuriate her (I think that's why grandma kept at it)!

"Mom! Stop doing that!"
"Oh Judy, it's not hurting anything!"
And then grandma would start laughing even harder!

When I turned 29, my aunt presented me with a box filled with writing tablets. It seems that my grandma kept secret journals. I won't attempt to discuss them here, but they were pretty telling. I thumbed through all of them, hoping to find just one naughty sketch. Nothing.


A few weeks ago, my mom and uncle were talking about a series of very old newspaper articles that featured my uncle. He was born blind and had his vision surgically restored at around age 3. Unfortunately, his condition worsened over time and he eventually lost sight completely. It was HUGE news in Detroit in the 40s and my grandma saved every clipping. My mom and Wayne were trying to figure out who had them last and if they still existed.

I am the family archivist and have just about every old family photograph. To me, they are like priceless jewels. Mom naturally asked me if I saw or knew where they were or if I had them. I answererd, "No." to each.

That was a bold-faced lie! In fact, when I told her that I had no idea where any of that stuff was, it was actually sitting in a storage box not 500 feet from me!!! The news clippings are just as valuable and I was afraid that if I admitted to having them that I would never see them again. They are very brittle and need to be photographed or scanned, but that requires a serious time commitment that I can't deal with right now. That, and the 2000-or-so Kodachrome slides I inherited after my paternal grandfather died are part of my long list of THINGS TO DO BEFORE I DIE!

Well, guilt finally ate a hole in my resolve and I made a full confession to my mother on Sunday. I explained my concern and she understood. I brought the crate out and together we started to go through it. It was full of old envelopes, receipts, address books and other ephemera. As I dug deeper through the layers of history, I unearthed an ancient relic that, up until now, was nothing more than a legend. It was a drawing! Now I know how Howard Carter must have felt.

Take a look at the detail above.

My word, what is that boy (who looks freakishly similar to Eric Stoltz in Mask) doing? Why, I believe he's pulling down that poor girl's underpants!

After all these years, I finally have solid evidence that validates a story that has been told over-and-over again! Best of all, it proves that my grandma and I were cut from the same cloth and that the proverbial "apple" never falls far from the tree:

EXPLORER, 2007 (20x24 Chromogenic print - Edition size = 10)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am the aunt who presented Tom with the box of written material from Bonnie (my mother). She surely was one of a kind and touched us all with her humor and simple honesty. Little Tommy was her pride and joy and he is clearly an apple not far from her tree! Good stuff Tom. I smiled and cried at the same time. One of my deepest wishes is to have just one more day with Bonnie! Thankfully she gets to live on through all of us.

10:32 PM  
Blogger Ward Jenkins said...

This was a great story. What a cool grandma. I would've laughed and giggled just as much as you if my grandma was doodling "dingers."

I'm glad I found this blog, Tom (or Thomas?) -- I love your photography and your pulp cover paper "sculptures" are simply amazing. What a fantastic idea. I saw Chip Kidd talk in Atlanta recently and he spoke very highly of you. Great stuff, man.

6:13 PM  

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