My grandfather took this photo in 1942 during World War II. The dead man laying in the field towards the left of the frame was his bunkmate. He only showed me the photos he took during his years overseas once and I never saw them again until I inherited them when he died. I woke up today feeling compelled to dig them out and share them.
This weekend I was overcome with a strange thankfulness that my grandfather is no longer here. How could I possibly explain to him- a man who lied about his age to go fight nazis at 16, and who spent the rest of his life ravaged by the effects of war and a bullet he took in the leg- that nazis were marching on american soil in 2017? How could I tell him that a woman and two state troopers died during a protest against their resurgence? I mean that literally, how would I actually sit down and tell him that white supremacists are energetic and demonstrative again? My grandfather rarely talked about the war and he hated anything that glorified it; he was disgusted every time a new hollywood blockbuster came out, hated the idea of movie executives making millions off the stories of veterans. ‘Give the veterans the damn money and I’ll start seeing them’, he’d say. The war changed him in vast, unknowable ways.
my grandfather getting his hair cut by his brothers the day 3 of them enlisted
I grew up with war in my house. When I was a kid, my grandfather and I shared a bedroom wall and sometimes I would wake to him screaming through a nightmare. I would rush in and shake him and he would always awaken with the same terror in his eyes. My grandfather was the toughest man I’d ever known, it always shook me to see him like that. It gave me a great understanding that war isn’t some abstract concept or thing written about in books. It’s not prevented from hilarious tweets and memes. It is awful and real and entirely possible when a group of people become complacent. It kills people and the ones that live through it are still ruined in some way.
My grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s later in his life. But even when he forgot everything, me included, he always knew his army number. It was the one thing his disease could not take from him, it was permanently etched inside him. He could be totally out of it and you’d ask for it and he’d proudly shout out ‘E47114’. I tattooed that number on me years ago, not because I thought of him as a soldier, but because it was the most indelible part of him and the part of himself that he clung to the most.
We can’t for one fucking second think that it’s a coincidence that all this is happening just as World War II is rapidly fading from living memory. I still remember learning about war for the first time, and wondering how people could have possibly let it happen. But wasn’t it amazing to know that our country was on the right side of history? Growing up with a grandfather like mine gave me a deep appreciation for history and sacrifice and virtue. It still blows my mind sometimes to think of all those people who volunteered, who stood up for what they believed in and were willing to even die for that, for others they didn’t even know.
I truly believe we are in the middle of a shameful chapter, that we will look back upon this time and wonder what we were thinking. Make no mistake, how we behave now is how we are going to have to explain ourselves to our children. Every person, especially white people, should be denouncing the disgusting public displays of racism in the world right now. Silence IS complicity. You are not how you feel or think. You are what you say and do. Whether that’s in real life or on social media or in calling out people for racist jokes, use your damn voice. Let it be known.
So one day when your grandkids learn about these years, they’ll know that you were on the right side of history.
forever proud to be this man’s granddaughter.
How many photos do you have of you and your partner? In today’s digital age, you probably have hundreds, if not thousands. I lived with Ryan McAlpine for almost 3 years. You know how many photos I have of us? Maybe 50. And that’s because of film.
Do you remember how special film was? When you only had 26 frames, you didn’t waste them. You didn’t click away mindlessly, you chose your moments. You waited for the right shot and then you waited again. You had to use up the whole roll and then bring them somewhere and wait some more! It was torturous, not knowing what turned out. I resisted the digital age for so long. I loved film. I loved the lesson in patience, I loved the way my hands smelled after hours in the darkroom, I loved the way the camera shutter clicked, that satisfying clunk. There’s a reason we love photos from that time so much, why their vintage quality almost makes them look more real. It’s because we take too damn many photos now. Today’s kids will never get to experience that feeling of walking into the photo shop to pick up a double set of your newly developed photos, all of which turned out. Of tearing open that package in the parking lot and passing them around in the car with your friends, laughing at the moments you’re all simultaneously reliving, together. It was euphoric. Film taught us to be hopeful, that things would turn out alright.
When Ryan died almost 12 years ago, I thought I might never be alright again. I don’t know if I’ve ever told anyone that before, but that’s the exact thought I had the night I went home from that emergency room without him. It was the only I could think actually. I stared at the ceiling, chain smoking and picturing his dead face in my mind, thinking over and over: I may never be alright again.
I recently dug out my old film camera, the one my grandfather placed in my hands when I was a teenager and said ‘a camera is a gift that teaches you to see the world without a camera.’ I put it together and ordered several obscure batteries and cleaned out my old camera bag and found 2 rolls of never developed film rolling around in the bottom of it. It took a few tries to find a place that developed true black and white film but a week later I was sitting in my car, ripping open packages with anticipation just like I used to. One roll was dead, a single hazy image came out. The other was the last roll I shot on the camera. There were some of a camping trip, a few of the house and then there he was. Three frames, never before seen. His eyes, eyes I haven’t looked into in over a decade, staring back up at me, cradling our old dog.
What a gift.
And a reminder that everything turns out alright.
This is a photo of me getting my infected middle finger sliced open by a Balinese doctor in a strange clinic, sans freezing. They didn’t have much on hand and didn’t want to waste it on my silly finger so he took a scalpel to it while I made these faces and tried to breathe through it. It was super gross and painful and required a FUN re-slicing 3 days later. It was also a little scary- the type of infection I had can spread to into your hand or eventually, into your blood. It was the first time I’ve ever had to consider the possibility of flying home to get treatment and discuss a contingency plan if it got worse. It’s easy to share beautiful vacation memories but we rarely talk about all the shit that comes along with travel. It’s rare to hear people talk about or post about getting sick or the inconveniences and struggles that come along with it. Travel is a lot like life- good and bad, punctuated by moments of extreme highs and extreme lows. When we left on this trip, we made a pact to take a photo whenever something bad happened.
Here’s a few things you didn’t see:
-The 3 sinus infections I got because I was essentially allergic to southwest England, most of Morocco and all of northern Vietnam
-The water parasites we got on the north african coast, nasty little buggers than caused me to be temporarily lactose intolerant for 6 goddamn months (yea you think travel is exotic? Google giardia-induced lactose intolerance and try not eating cheese for SIX MONTHS. I still want a trophy for this)
two kids who are thrilled that they paid $$ to come to a moroccan surf camp, only to spend the whole week in bed with water parasites
-The VISA fiasco at the Thailand/Vietnam border that stranded us for the night and cost $400 to fix
-The hours and hours and hours spent waiting in airport lines and visa lines and bathroom lines and immigration lines
-The bank machine in Tanzania that stole a bunch of my money that I’m still waiting to get back. Which was immediately followed by a banking glitch that caused me to think that 6k had been stolen from my accounts and sob in frustration for 6 hours until someone figured it out.
-That last one happened just one week after discovering my credit card had been cancelled by my bank due to some suspicious activity. They had to overnight me a new one and getting it delivered to an actual address in a place that has no actual addresses beyond ‘go down the dirt road and turn left at the chicken coop with the yellow roof’ was a special kind of hell.
-The yelling match I got in with a bus company in Ho Chi Min after they gave us the wrong address for pickup, causing us to miss our bus (not my finest moment)
-The asthma attacks I had/almost had every few days lugging this green monster all around the world
debating which puffer to get out of my bag so I didn’t die in a Paris subway station
-All the tears I cried after hanging up the phone with my grandmother or goddaughter or best friend
-The spotty internet connections all over the world that left me so frustrated trying to book something or communicate with my family
-The hell of a time I had eating in Vietnam and Cambodia with shellfish allergies; I spent several nights in bed with my epi-pen in my hand as I dozed off into a stoned sleep from high doses of Benadryl after finding a handful of tiny shrimp at the bottom of my soup. Allergies aren’t taken as seriously in certain places and I basically ate plain rice and veggies for a couple weeks to minimize my risk of exposure to fish sauce and other shellfish while Andrew delighted in all the amazing food in that region.
-A flight so turbulent that baggage compartments opened and people started praying
-The massive wave that took me out in Canggu and threw enough sand in my eye to scratch my cornea
6 hours into a 12 hour journey through Cambodia, the AC broke on a 45 degree day. 3 hours later that tin can was so pungent it made our eyes water.
another sinus infection in Morocco, drinking some weird antiseptic given to us by the owner of the airbnb
Hell is an immigration hall in Cambodia
Doing laundry often meant drying my underwear with a hotel handdryer
The massive goose egg on my leg after falling on a Game of Thrones tour in Northern Ireland in front of 50 people
The beginning of the finger infection