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My grandfather was a photography nut. I won’t go so far as to say he was a photography buff or an amateur photographer, but he was into taking pictures. Of his family, mostly, and friends. I never saw a picture of interesting buildings or pretty foliage. My grandfather took pictures of people. Often twice, because he’d forget to take the lens cap off.

He was so excited when my sister went to the prom that she and her date had to repose for all the pictures. Because he left the lens cap on. (I secretly think he was just stunned she got a date — just kidding, sis!) I’m not sure how you and your family pose for prom pictures, but in our family, it’s just short of a wedding shoot. Pictures of the girl alone, pictures of the guy alone, pictures of them together. Pictures of her getting the flowers, pictures of him getting the flowers. Pictures with the parents, pictures with the siblings, pictures with the whole family. Pictures with the grandparents… you get the idea. Is it an Italian thing, or was it just my grandfather setting a tradition in my family?

It wasn’t just the proms, though. In the summers, he’d have me and my cousin stand in the flower beds to take photos of us by whatever was blooming. They usually planted geraniums and impatiens. When my grandma wasn’t looking, my cousin and I would bend down and pop the impatiens’ seed pods, and my grandfather would laugh. If Grandma would see, she’d yell and we’d run away, and he’d just laugh louder. And then usually he’d realize he had the lens cap on and we’d have to come back and do it again. Afterward, we’d get Gram’s lemonade and cookies, so who could complain?

There were always photos at holiday mealtimes. We have some wonderful snapshots of tables laden with food and everyone is gathered around them, forks or glasses raised in salute of a toast having been made. But someone is always missing from the photo, because someone was behind the camera. Usually it was my grandfather. I have one nice picture where my grandfather is actually at the head of the table… my uncle took the shot; he’s absent from the photo. When I grew up and started hosting meals, I took a photo at my home. I wasn’t in the shot. It was kind of depressing, because it reminded me that my grandfather wasn’t, either. He’d been gone from us for many years at that point. I never took another photo at the dinner table. Really, at some point one of us should have learned to use the timer function on the camera.

My grandfather’s gone, and all we have now are boxes of his photos. Half of them are black, thanks to the lens cap. He’s in so few of the photos, because he was always behind the camera. But still, he gave us so many memories to remember him by. Not the big trips or the gorgeous monuments. It was the little things.

The grandkids in the flower beds.

His daughters in the kitchen with their mom.

His sons-in-law in the alley washing a car.

The family at the table.

We don’t have to worry about lens caps anymore when we’re taking the photos. But we should all learn to use the timer.