Editor’s Note: I originally wrote and published this on my other blog back in February 2008. Since then, I’ve decided to combined the two sites and to transfer some of the posts from that site onto this blog. This is a story about a photograph that I took a couple of years ago. I mentioned it once on this blog, but if you haven’t read the whole story, please do. I think it’s quite amazing, but then it’s MY life, so there ya go! I would really be very interested in hearing from any of you who may have actually received the email that I talk about below.
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It all Started with a Picture of some Hands …
The month before my Grandmother died, I visited her in Missouri along with my mother, sister, niece and her new baby girl. My Grandma Pete was 93, tired and getting weak. In her own words, she was ready to go to God. We knew her days with us were coming to an end, and we wanted her to have the joy of seeing her first Great-Great Grandchild.
As the designated family photographer for the trip, I took a portrait of the five “women” ~ all with smiling faces ~ to commemorate the special occasion of so many generations coming together. (That photo is shown at the end of this post.) I asked them to let me follow it up with a more artsy shot of just their hands. This was met with some playful mock resistance (including “no notice given for manicures”) but they were all game and eventually caved in to my “artistic demands.” The idea for the composition had been suggested by a sales rep at Precision Camera in Austin, and I wanted to give it a try.
It took some effort by everyone involved to capture the shot we wanted. My Grandmother was not very mobile so we worked around her seated position in her recliner. A couple of yards of black fabric from the local Wal-Mart draped over her lap served as our backdrop. Then everyone else took their places. I stood on a kitchen chair and focused the camera down while the “younger generations” (73, 51, & 27) leaned back as far as they all could manage while still keeping their hands (and the baby’s) in my viewfinder.
We tried several arrangements of their hands before choosing a chronological age sequence that just seemed right. The photograph shows the hands of my Grandma, Mom, sister, niece & great niece with each gently touching the next. Pleased with the result and proud to play a role in capturing our family’s personal history, I named this special photograph: The Hands of Time.
We had hoped to run the photo, along with the traditional 5 generation portrait, in the local newspaper where Grandmother lived in St. Joseph, Missouri. Unfortunately, we were not able to do this before she passed away just a month after our visit.
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Other Photos from that Day in March 2006 …
Hands Across Time
My Grandmother with her first grandchild (my sister Gayle) with then with HER first grandchild, Laurel
Studying each other closely as if memorizing one another’s faces
What Happened Next
A little over a year later, my cousin emailed me an inspirational piece of writing “Grandma’s Hands” commenting that it reminded her of the photo I took. The “unknown author” wrote of her 90-year old Grandma and the hardships of her life (many which had paralleled my grandmother’s) and how it will be these hands that “reach out and touch the face of God.” This was just as my Grandmother fervently believed before she passed. It seemed as if that photo was taken to go with the writing. I immediately copied the poem, inserted my photo and emailed it out to family & friends, including the staff at the elementary school where I work.
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The Hands of Time
5 Generation Photo by Pamela McFarland Walsh
MY GRANDMA’S HANDS
by Melinda Clements
Grandma, some ninety plus years, sat feebly on the patio bench. She didn’t move, just sat with her head down staring at her hands.
When I sat down beside her she didn’t acknowledge my presence and the longer I sat I wondered if she was OK.
Finally, not really wanting to disturb her but wanting to check on her at the same time, I asked her if she was OK. She raised her head and looked at me and smiled. “Yes, I’m fine, thank you for asking,” she said in a clear voice strong.
“I didn’t mean to disturb you, Grandma, but you were just sitting here staring at your hands and I wanted to make sure you were OK,” I explained to her.
“Have you ever looked at your hands?” she asked. “I mean really looked at your hands?”
I slowly opened my hands and stared down at them. I turned them over, palms up and then palms down. No, I guess I had never really looked at my hands as I tried to figure out the point she was making.
Grandma smiled and related this story:
“Stop and think for a moment about the hands you have, how they have served you well throughout your years. These hands, though wrinkled shriveled and weak have been the tools I have used all my life to reach out and grab and embrace life.
They braced and caught my fall when as a toddler I crashed upon the floor.
They put food in my mouth and clothes on my back. As a child, my mother taught me to fold them in prayer. They tied my shoes and pulled on my boots. They held my husband and wiped my tears when he went off to serve our country in time of war.
They have been dirty, scraped and raw, swollen and bent. They were uneasy and clumsy when I tried to hold my newborn son. The left hand is decorated with my wedding band they showed the world that I was married and loved someone special.
They wrote my letters to him and trembled and shook when I buried my parents and my spouse.
They have held my children and grandchildren, consoled neighbors, and shook in fists of anger when I didn’t understand.
They have covered my face, combed my hair, and washed and cleansed the rest of my body. They have been sticky and wet, bent and broken, dried and raw. And to this day when not much of anything else of me works real well, but these hands hold me up, lay me down, and again continue to fold in prayer.
These hands are the mark of where I’ve been and the ruggedness of life.
But more importantly it will be these hands that God will reach out and take when he leads me home. And with my hands He will lift me to His side and there I will use these hands to touch His Face.”
I will never look at my hands the same again. But I remember God reached out and took my Grandma’s hands and led her home.
When my hands are hurt or sore or when I stroke the face of my children and husband I think of Grandma. I know she has been stroked and caressed and held by the Hands of God.
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This piece was originally published as “Grandpa’s Hands” copyright 2004. The revised version above is posted with the permission of the author. To contact Melinda, visit her website or click to email her directly: Melinda Clements.
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“And Now,” as Paul Harvey would say, “the REST of the Story!”
A few months after that email, one of the teachers who I work with stopped me in the hallway and asked, “Didn’t you take a photo of some hands?” She said she was sure that she’d seen my picture in an email she received from a friend. I replied that it probably wasn’t mine, someone else must have taken a similar pose, and promptly dismissed it.
A month or two later, my sister (whose hand is IN the photo) received an email from a good friend of hers in West Texas. It was a forward of a forward of a forwarded email with this note: “Just look at the picture a good while, and then read the rest. It will touch you.” Lo & behold, if it wasn’t the photo and the poem as I had originally sent it out. Ironically, her friend had no idea that it was Gayle’s hand and family depicted. When Gayle told her, she said “Well, I thought that ring looked familiar.”
I studied the chain of forwarded emails and recipients convinced I would find some link to explain it all, but was unable to see one despite the many addresses it contained. We got a big chuckle out of the whole thing and remarked about the power of the internet. Little did we know.
Fast forward to this past February … Looking through a folder that I’ve kept for many years ~ a file of “keepers” containing inspirational pieces, poems, motivational articles and quotes ~ I decided to start posting some of these favorites on a new blog. Since I consider these to be written gems, I named that blog “Retold Gold,” a nod to the fact that most of the pieces aren’t “first-run” editions.
Now, I have always believed it is important to credit work. As such, I decided I’d always make a sincere effort to find out who authored a piece before posting it, even if it had initially come to me as “Unknown Author.” Sadly, this is one of the pitfalls of the Internet; people frequently leave off the author’s name when they copy, paste and share. On the flip side, the web makes it really easy to find the original source if it’s somewhere “out there.” Just Google a line from a piece of writing (with quotation marks around the phrase) and it’s usually possible to find multiple sites where it’s posted, and frequently the author’s name as well.
WHICH brings me back to the photo. Following the first item on my RetoldGold blog (which ironically focuses on the importance of crediting work) I decided to post the inspirational piece “Grandma’s Hands” along with the photo I had taken as I had originally sent it out. But, I didn’t have the author’s name. In keeping with my intention to always give credit whenever possible, I simply googled a phrase from the poem.
Well, I found what I was looking for … and more! Not only did the writing appear on numerous sites, I found it posted many times with my “Hands of Time” photo. From the National Call to Prayer website to at least 25 different blogs across the country, this photo and poem have appeared together. People have posted reflections on their own grandparents and similar pictures they were inspired to take. People have written about its origins: “this widely circulated email” that “I’m sure you’ve seen before.” Some sites even showed it with the original words that I had written:
I was privileged to take a photo of ‘Five Generations of Women’ shortly before my 93 year-old Grandmother passed away last year. The photo, shown below, features the hands of my Grandmother, Mom, Sister, Niece and Great-Niece. While I can’t take credit for the idea, I was so happy to have had the suggestion & capture this moment. It inspired a friend of mine to do something similar which turned out so beautiful and a special keepsake prior to her father’s passing.
I have found my picture posted on the photo sharing sites Photobucket and FLICKR with a challenge to “go take one like it.” I have seen it offered as desktop wallpaper. I have seen my image edited with the hands of MY family placed onto a different background. I even found a person who posted it on a social network claiming that SHE took the photo, and then asking other people rate it! (On the positive side, it had received 10 out of 10 stars on all the ratings!)
Most had posted it as author (and obviously photographer) unknown, but with acknowledgment for its inspiration to them. For this I am grateful. After a bit of searching, I was able to determine who had authored the poem, and I contacted her directly. Melinda Clements originally wrote it as Grandpa’s Hands, copyright 2004. When I shared my discovery with her, she said, “Oh, I’ve seen your photo before.” We have enjoyed a new found friendship and connection. Unknowingly and without intention, we have become forever entwined by our creative works.
Since that day, I hear from folks on an almost weekly basis about emails they’ve received with the photo ~ my brother-in-law in Iowa got it from a cousin in the ministry during the spring, a friend here in Austin received it from her former mother-in-law, and my aunt in Missouri heard about it from someone in her church congregation. Even after all these sitings, it still amazes me every time I hear about it.
Recently, Mom called to share yet another story. Daddy went in for a check-up at his doctor’s office and found a printed email of my photo pinned to the wall of the reception area. My father paused, and then commented, “My daughter took that picture, and that’s my family.” The ladies in the office didn’t believe him until he promised he would bring in one of the “models” and prove it. The nurse remarked, “Well, they must have made a lot of money off of that!” Mother shared the story with me then said, “Isn’t that a coincidence?!” More than coincidence ~ it just illustrates the widespread distribution.
As I have journeyed through the land of internet anonymity, I’ve experienced firsthand the feelings of not receiving acknowledgement for my work. I DO understand that people can’t ask — or give credit to — someone when they don’t know who it is. But it’s just an odd feeling, or should I say, a mixture of many: knowing it’s so OUT there, knowing it’s inspired people, knowing that no one knows it’s mine, knowing that people have taken it and CHANGED it, knowing that people have claimed it as THEIR OWN.
I found one person who posted Melinda’s poem on his “Christian” website with HIS name as the author, along with a COPYRIGHT and then the incredulous message to “Feel free to copy and distribute this to everyone you know.” As if it’s his right to grant! Like the woman who claimed my photo as hers, that completely boggles my mind.
So with renewed passion, I reiterate my founding guideline: Whenever possible, CREDIT work to the responsible CREATORS. Be diligent when you copy something. Whether by pen or keyboard or Xerox machine, take the time to note and include the author’s name whenever you can. If you can’t do that, at least acknowledge that it’s the work of someone else, and certainly never claim (or even give the impression) that it’s yours.
That morning I discovered the widespread distribution of my photo, I sat anchored to my computer. Clicking link after link, I welled with emotion as I read the heartfelt comments of strangers describing the feelings it evoked in them. I am so deeply touched and honored that my photo, along with Melinda’s words, has resonated with so many people. Truly I am. Yet at the same time, it felt strange realizing that people have been sharing and posting my family photo on such a large scale while I was completely unaware.
It is amazing, humbling and a bit bizarre all at the same time.
Pamela McFarland Walsh
The “Unknown” Photographer
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I really enjoy hearing from people who have seen the photo and have been inspired by it. I love the comments and emails that have been shared with me ~ whether to tell me about when they first came across it or how it’s inspired them to take a similar one themselves. I love your family stories & they gratify me, so I invite you to please take a minute to share.
Also, I am happy to share my “Hands of Time” photograph for your personal (non-commercial) website with my name as the photographer ~ Pamela McFarland Walsh ~ (and a link to this site please!) If you have any questions or other interest in the photo, please drop me an email.
Please be sure to contact Melinda Clements for permission to use her writing.
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A Few of the Related Links I’ve Discovered …
Grandma’s Hands ~ as a page background
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Five Generations, Three Pictures, One Legacy
My mother’s family is known for their longevity. This wasn’t the first time we had captured five generations of women together. Here are 3 portraits representing 5 generations at different points in our family’s history. My Grandmother (Pauline Kimmel Boppenmeyer), Mother (Barbara Boppenmeyer McFarland) and sister (Gayle McFarland Arnn) are in all 3 of the photographs at different stages in their lives. My niece (Sara Arnn Allard) is shown as the baby in 1982 and the mom in 2006. (And yes, we ALL like to change our hair color with frequency!)
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Seated: MaryAnn Bixler Starks, Baby Gayle McFarland, & Barbara Boppenmeyer McFarland; Back: Inez Starks Kimmel & Pauline Kimmel Boppenmeyer
Seated: Barbara Boppenmeyer McFarland, Baby Sara Arnn, Inez Starks Kimmel; Back: Gayle McFarland Arnn & Pauline Kimmel Boppenmeyer
Seated: Pauline Kimmel Boppenmeyer, Baby Laurel Allard, Barbara Boppenmeyer McFarland, Back: Gayle McFarland Arnn and Sara Arnn Allard