I grew up in Australia, about as far away from extended family as we could possibly get. Over balmy Christmases we looked forward to the string and brown paper wrapped parcel that was our one contact with grandparents and aunts; or the birthday card with strange, grey-blue money which meant a trip to the bank to receive Australian dollars, usually more than double the amount sent.
Who was Grandma? Was she the cassette player where we recorded our voices and our childish, self centred versions of ourselves for her listening pleasure? Was she the disembodied voice on the end of a phone call, booked through the operator at Christmas time; Midas minutes as we searched for something to say to each other, strangers on the end of a steadily ticking call charge.
And Grandads: an even more ethereal concept as they hung quietly in the background of the pragmatic and voluble northern women who made up our family. Grandads we knew, could not even sign their own names on cards. I think we believed it was beneath them. It was definitely the woman's job.
What has this got to do with Fall, Autumn that is; the end of something?
This photo spoke to me of Fall. In the last year that the BA and I lived in the UK we went north to visit my great-aunt, my grandmother's last surviving sister, before we moved back to Australia. She was in her 80s and frail but still handsome and gentle as she had always been since I first met her, briefly, at the age of seven.
Over the years I had met my grandmothers and grandfathers. Once in 1967 we had stayed with them for 6 months while my father was on sabbatical. In 1972 we had spent about 3 months with them before moving on to Canada for the remainder of yet another sabbatical and finally in 1979 I had spent 9 months with them as I worked and saved money to go on my great adventure, back packing around Europe. It helped to know the faces that went with the handwriting. The roots from which we had sprung.
But by 2002, Auntie Pauline was just about the last one left. The last one that we were speaking to anyhow :-). Northern families are like that. Unca Dick drove up with us to see her, on a crystal clear October afternoon when the trees were orange and yellow and the clouds were so many balls of cotton wool in a cobalt sky. We knew it would probably be the last time we would see her. She was slowing down and we were going a long, long way away. Again.
As we were leaving, Unca Dick took our pictures. This one I love. As we got in the car to leave I had to sit for a moment, stop my eyes and take some deep breaths as the enormity of our move and the reality of goodbye set in. Unca Dick sat quietly next to me and neither of us had to say anything.
For a brief moment in 2004 I thought we would see her again. In June we booked our tickets to visit that Christmas. In the Fall, after a routine operation from which she seemed to be recovering well, she suddenly failed and in a matter of days she was gone. So this picture is the last we have of her. Ten years beforehand she had made the mammoth trip to the other side of the world to see me married, the last of her generation, who stand in the background of my life, their resonance loud even as they were simply names on Christmas cards.
Fall: the end of something.
For more Fall beauty, check out the stunning shots over at Stacey's Theme Thursday.