My great grandmother is ninety-nine years old, and I have always, always loved her pictures. The last time I saw her face to face I think I was ten. So when I think of her, I rarely actually envision the way she might look today. Instead I always think of the photographs of her hanging on the walls of my mom and dad’s house from when she was young. Looking up into the camera, even in all shades of grey, she had all the coy femininity of a Hollywood starlet back then. And even though I didn't look anything like her, I used to hope that I would grow up to be anywhere near as pretty as she was in those pictures.
My grandma’s pictures were always a favorite for me to look at too because even when I was ten I could tell how much I was going to grow to take on her features, which I’m proud to say I have. We always looked so much alike that my mom would literally tell the boyfriends I brought to the house growing up, that she hoped they liked the way the lady in this certain photograph looked, because that's exactly who I’m destined to resemble in my granmotherly age.
On another note, I’m horrible at keeping in touch with people, and with the only exception being my mom who practically enlists the FBI to track me down if I haven’t called or updated my blog in three consecutive days, family is no different. (Little Brother, if you are reading this -- I will call you today, I PROMISE.) But when Scarlett was sick, my grandma, who lives hours and hours away called the hospital every single day to tell me that she loved us, and to update me on just how many people back in Indiana were praying for my little girl. When we finally got home, Matthew helped me to open a hand-written letter she mailed to us containing four photographs, dating back as many as seven generations. In the letter she said that she wanted me to paint a portrait of the women in my family, including myself and Scarlett, and to adorn it with the saying: pioneer women come from good stock. A few of the reference photos were unclear and difficult to work from, so I have to admit that I was nervous about starting it. But painting this, especially from photographs taken so many generations before I was even alive, was an experience like no other project could have given me.
I don’t know if Scarlett will live to be ninety-nine years old like her very lovely great, great grandmother, or if she’ll be as wonderful and selfless as the women in our family tree who I’ve been lucky enough to know more closely -- the kind who calls from Indiana everyday just to tell you that they care, or the kind who frets for your safety if they haven’t heard from you in THREE days -- but it feels good to know that she comes from a long lineage of very strong female blood.
Speaking of Scarlett's stay at A.I.: On one of the last days that my parents brought the kids to visit Scarlett and I in the hospital, Mary cried so hard that her face turned red when it was time for them to leave. As long we’re on the subjects of pictures I love, I have to say, it’s ones of the two of them together - both of my daughters - that I hope are still being passed around seven generations down the road from now. It’s worth mentioning to me that Mary might not share my blood, but she embodies beauty and strength of spirit like no one else I’ve ever met. Family to her, blood or otherwise is everything. And for that, I am just as proud to call her daughter as I am Scarlett.