From the time I was very young, I dreamed of traveling around the world and taking pictures of all of the beautiful places and people I had only ever gotten to see in the stacks of old National Geographic magazines that my step-Grandpa “Grandpa Lindsey,” had in his treasure collection in the basement. My little sister and I used to go explore and play down there amongst the piles of “everything” – while the parents and grandparents were upstairs, doing whatever it was that grown ups did when they got together in the 80’s that “wouldn’t be any fun for kids.”
So while they sipped on various adult beverages and smoked cigarettes and talked about “big people stuff”, my sister and I would dig through the old trinkets, play dress up with the trunks full of “old people” clothes and then while she found the porcelain dolls and the stash of tiny little Avon mini flocked teddy bears to play with, I made my way to the corner of WONDER AND AWE where Grandpa kept his towers of National Geographic magazines… where I would get lost in there for hours.
Most 10 year old girls would have rolled their eyes and mumbled a forced “Thank you…” when they opened their Christmas gift to find a piece of paper that said “Your very own National Geographic Magazine subscription will be delivered right to your house just for you!” – but I remember looking up from that hand written note and locking eyes with Grandpa Lindsey and watching his face light up as he watched the joy spread over my face as I tossed the box off my lap to run over and wrap my arms around his neck and hug him with all my might.
“So you can plan your adventures someday and take pictures of it all.” He whispered into my ear.
He passed away in 1988 when I was 15 years old and a sophomore in high school where I was using my magazines to make the most beautiful History Reports a teacher ever did see and half the time, even though I was assigned one country to do my report on…poor Mr. Jabbora or Mr. Ames had to sit and grade the other 2-3 “Extra credit” reports I did on top of the required paper, just so I could cut out more beautiful photos and share about another country I had learned about. I was sad that I was not going to be able to do that anymore, as my mom couldn’t afford to buy me the magazines and I couldn’t very well destroy the ones in the library, just to make my history reports look beautiful.
My step-Grandpa had planned ahead though…and my treasured magazine arrived every month until I graduated. Grandpa had given me one of the best gifts of my entire life and one that helped shape me into who I am today.
He invested in my love of photography, art, culture, nature, science, architecture and beautiful human beings and saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself at the time…my desire to not just see the world and take photos of it, but to give love to the people I meet, where ever I go.
I think about him often and every single time that I now finally get to travel and see some of the places I thought I would only get to visit in the pages of books – gifted to me by one of the only people in my childhood that really truly “saw me” and believed in my dreams along side of me.
I think about him every time I stand on a new beach and feel the water rush in around my ankles and the sand suck out from under my toes with the tide and I take a photo of all of the treasures I found while wandering and people watching.
I remember his sigh and the way he would pat his lap to invite me to sit with him while I showed him the pages of endless photos I found of people who were hungry, scared or sad and the way he wrapped his arms around my shoulders while he explained how lucky I was to be born in a place where I didn’t have to worry about such things.
He told me that when I was bigger, I could help them myself, if I really wanted to.
I think about Grandpa Lindsey, every time I pack my suitcase full of painted rocks to leave for random strangers to find, where ever I travel to…and remember what he said when I asked, “How can I help them?”
“You’ll figure it out. I promise.” he said.
Maybe tiny little stones with happy thoughts written on them, painted shells and wooden shapes left in secret in places where many might not even notice, isn’t doing much to help all of the people I dream of helping and maybe it doesn’t feed their bellies the way I wish I could…but I have hope that it is somehow feeding their souls, one person at a time.
I have to think that if he were alive today, he would still pat his lap and open his arms up wide and invite me to go sit with him and show him pictures in books…except this time, they would be the ones that I took of the people and places I have seen and then he would hug me close and say “I knew you would figure it out.”
“May no gift be too small to give, nor too simple to receive, which is wrapped in thoughtfulness and tied with love.” – L.O. Baird