My parents traveled extensively. They used to have a big map in our basement with the countries they had been to colored in. I remember looking at it and thinking “the only place they haven’t been is Greenland!” They have been to placecs you can’t go to now; Iran, Iraq, Uganda, Afghanistan, China, India…
They were both skilled amateur photographers and we always enjoyed the slide shows on their return. Or I did, anyway. Mom and Dad would invite some people over for cocktails and dinner and we’d look at slides and movies afterward. My dad shot 8 mm movies at that time and the photo viewing sessions could get long. I remember turning the lights back on one evening and one of the guests was literally snoring on the sofa. We laughed about that.
In 1961 my dad was transferred to Missouri from Massachusetts by his career-long employer, Monsanto. They and their families were lifelong New Englanders but if Monsanto says Go, you go. A bunch of their friends were transferred at the same time so they still had a social circle.
Once we ended up in St. Louis, my parents never looked back. They embraced their new state and enjoyed the differences from New England. After the kids had all flown the coop, they started making trips around Missouri. They loved being together, stopping on a whim and ending up at a motel at night.
In 1981 I was a newly divorced college graduate living in Columbia, Missouri. My Bachelor of Fine Art degree was in photography and graphic design. I had bought my own house (with my student loan money for the down payment) and had a full darkroom in the house where I spent many hours making black and white and color prints. My cat Skaggs would sit on the stool with me in there for hours; I called her my assistant.
I was doing some event photography, weddings, parties and meetings but during college and for a while afterward my main source of income was cleaning houses. I was an independent contractor and it worked out well. My transportation was my bicycle for many years and I worked all around town. My farthest house was 14 miles away and I would ride there and back after cleaning. It was a great way to make money and I just bid the job, not a certain number of hours. Then I worked FAST.
After I graduated my mom was looking for a new photo project. We talked about what she might do and she and dad decided to take a bunch of trips around Missouri and document the countryside as they saw it at the time. She was trying to decide whether to shoot color or black and white film and I suggested black and white because of the archival qualities compared to color at the time. Naturally, I suggested that I might develop the film and make the prints and put the books together. We set out a price schedule and I strongly suspect that part of the reason she cooked this project up was to help supplement my income. I was happy to be involved.
So we all embarked on an extensive and detailed three year project where Mom shot the film, Dad schlepped the bags and cameras and I developed the film and made the prints. We produced two volumes with about 50 prints in each book. She faithfully documented where she took every shot in two steno notebooks. Mom was nothing if not meticulous. We made multiple copies of both books so my brother and sisters could have their own copy. It was like a manufacturing process.
Many years passed. When my dad died in 1991, Mom determined that I would be the curator of all her photography, including this project. My brother died in 1993 and his copies of the books came back to Mom. I kept my copies all through several moves and lifestyle changes.
When Mom had to move out of her house, I ended up with all the remaining copies of the books, the location notebooks and all the negatives she shot for both books. It wasn’t a huge amount of stuff and I always figured I would do something with it; I just didn’t know what.
Mom died in 2012. Before that, she was in assisted living in Kansas City near us and I could easily ride my bike to visit her. I never told her this, but sometimes the bike ride was the best part of the visit. We had already bought our bus and Jim was working on it full time after his retirement from SAS Consulting Services. Now we knew we could hit the road without worrying about Mom having no company. That was a huge relief.
Then in 2014 we sold our house and most of our stuff in preparation for the full-time bus lifestyle. When we were clearing out our 2700 square foot house, we set aside the things we wanted to keep and bought an enclosed 4 x 8 foot trailer to store until we ended up someplace else. We stored the trailer in a barn in Missouri and when we bought our house in Texas, a friend towed it to Texas for us. Mom’s Missouri project was included in the trailer. I figured I would do something with it once we got settled.
More years passed, almost three to be exact.
Finally, last week, I sent an email to the Missouri State Historical Society asking if they would be interested in the books, negatives and notebooks. They answered back right away and I boxed everything up, except my personal copies of the books, and shipped it all off! So now Mom’s work can live on in research and historical studies. I always thought it would be interesting to go back to some of the locations and see what they looked like now, but that’s an undertaking for someone else.
I must say the books and negatives all held up very well with no chemical stains on the prints and the negatives clean and dry. Packing them up and sending them off is like the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new one. Seeing Mom’s notes and handwriting made me tear up a little but I hope she somehow knows that the project is in good hands and will live on in history.
Pictures from Volume I, Missouri 1980s: The Way It Was.
One humorous memory… I was working on this project when Mom and Dad were traveling out of the country and I entered this photo of Mom’s in a local photo contest. She won Second Place. I also entered one of my photos and got an Honorable Mention. I never heard the end of that. Thanks for the memories, Mom.
Photos from More Missouri 1980s: Volume II: soon.