“Yes I’m pretty sure it is,” he playfully replied. I took a deep breath and smiled.
The audio recording (above) was captured about two years ago when Mervin and I lived in the same Fraser Valley community. We both relocated shortly after that and hadn’t communicated since. A few weeks before this recording was made Mervin was diagnosed with stomach cancer and decided not to have the surgery. Well it’s all on the recording…
I’ve thought of him often over the last few years but fear kept me from calling. I didn’t want to get the ‘this number is not in service’ message or reach a family member who would have to relay news to me that I did not want to hear. Not the strongest reasons but sometimes I do the weakest shit. Today I called.
“I’m cancer free,” he says in his perfect high-pitched voice. Mervin went on to tell me that he decided to go the wholistic route; keeping a positive frame of mind (that’s the easy part for him) and completely changing his diet, living on vegetables and fruits and removing all sugars, wheat, dairy, caffeine, etc — and it worked.
‘Remarkable’ was the word that kept popping into my mind when I first met him two years prior; so positive, so full of spirit, running his thrift store business on his own, hauling sofas, hanging art from the ceiling, open long hours including most evenings and at 81 years of age. And now beats cancer. Remarkable, many times over.
Photographing family has always been of utmost importance to me. These photographs are some of my most treasured possessions – photographic artifacts that I treasure dearly, and yet it has never been easy to take them.
I like to think that I live in the moment and when I’m with someone I try to be with them 100%, especially if I haven’t seen them in some time. Over the years I’ve become a little better disciplined at it than when younger, yet as someone who loves to document for historical and legacy purposes, meeting family often becomes a bit of an inner battle.
My wife and I recently traveled to the prairies for our annual pilgrimage to visit the clan. I instinctively loaded a few seamless backgrounds, light stands, clamps, and a couple sandbags into an already crammed vehicle and we hit the road for Alberta in anticipation of spending time with older relatives; especially hoping to visit with and then capture an image of my elusive Uncle Maurice.
My dear uncle has always been evasive around my camera. He’s an introvert and very private; I respect that and don’t push the camera on him – much. I have one picture of him with his late wife Shirley from about 2003 that I just adore; a lighthearted and spunky moment between the two, but not a picture since then. Shirley passed away about 5 years ago; married and inseparable from her for nearly 50 years, he’s never really been his playful self since.
We spent 4 engaging hours with him that Sunday, laughing and reminiscing about days gone by, eating Nanaimo bars and pretzels and consuming a little wine before heading to a restaurant for dinner. After the meal he asked if he could take us on a little tour to show us where his daughter’s new home was being constructed. The day’s light was quickly setting and I was a little concerned that my plan to photograph him, which needed to be within the next 15 minutes, was going by the wayside. We agreed to the tour – it was important to him.
At the subdivision he was telling me about the slope, the siding, and how construction was behind schedule. The sun was setting, and I found it harder to stay in the present. Luckily after a few more minutes he said something about it getting late and started heading back to the vehicle. Before opening the door I asked him if I could take a quick portrait of him. He said ‘sure’.
Scrambling to set up my makeshift studio in front of a half finished garage, he chuckled and couldn’t believe I was ‘making this fuss’ for him. I started to photograph. Four frames into it he told me that I should have enough by now. I took about 50 more.
The photos above are the results. Asking him about the abundance of single and available ladies in his senior’s complex precipitated the great Uncle Maurice laugh; the same one I recalled as a kid. They won’t win first place in the annual PDN awards, (refusing to enter those contests affirms that – a post maybe for another time) but they are documents that I will cherish.
It would have been easy to convince myself that it just wasn’t meant to be on that particular day; I would get him next time, or even next year. I’ve procrastinatively justified those scenarios in the past, and now no longer do. We all learn in life that ‘next time’ is never guaranteed.
* After sending this photo to my uncle, I asked him for a quote; something that I could use for a caption or headline for a blog post. He replied, “Tell them ‘he’s my uncle and he’s available’.”