Photo Flashback

The box on the dusty shelf was marked “Family and Pretty Girls.” The title made me nervous, frankly. This was one of several boxes of photo slides taken by my late grandfather, a dentist with a love of photography, orchids, mischief and “pretty girls.”

Doc Finley’s muse was my grandmother, the sweet-as-sugar Atlanta girl who adored fishing, manners and, apparently, posing seductively on beaches.

A quick Grandad story for context: In third grade, I played hooky one day and stayed with Grandad. He knew I was not sick. We even discussed my glaring lack of illness. But he wanted a playmate, so we boldly soldiered on with my guardian-sanctioned truancy.

On that day, Grandad emerged from his greenhouse with stacks of green orchid pots. For hours, we built an elaborate Emerald City as the pots were meticulously fashioned into grand towers and paths on the patio.

When Grandma arrived home, she had to walk through the emerald path to the door, which was blocked by our Wizard of Oz—a football with a hand-drawn face and a sign that read “Go back to Kansas, Grandma.”

Grandad was loads of fun.
Until he broke out the “picture show.”

We visited my grandparents often. Grandma was an amazing Southern cook (okra, black-eyed peas, fried fish from recent catches), yet there was a danger in staying too long aft er supper. That unmistakable whine of a retractable screen signaled our captivity.

Another Grandad slideshow.
“This was the circus that came to town,” he’d say amid rolling eyes. “Hee, hee. Look at that.”

We knew the script. “Canada. Look at those gardens. And this is the Biltmore.”

Then came the slides of my mother, the fairhaired only child of Katherine and Red Finley. There was little Kay wearing jammies, holding a dachshund, lift ing a beach ball, feeding a rabbit, modeling an Easter dress.

The showstopper (as in the last slide before the show mercifully stopped) was a grand silhouette of my dressed-to-the-nines grandmother holding my mother’s hand. They were on a hill against a Southern sky at dusk. My mother held a leash attached to a perfectly posed dachshund. The photo likely was shot shortly aft er WWII.

It is nothing short of breathtaking. More than a decade ago, I pulled that slide out of a carousel and made prints for my siblings. Then I stashed the carousel boxes back in the closet. Weeks ago, while organizing a chaotic pants pile, I saw the boxes again.

Turns out, the “pretty girls” were my mom and grandmother. Most remarkable, though, was the photo collection itself—the art of an innovative dentist, veteran, orchid grower and Oz mastermind.

These were the images I gagged over in the 1970s. Now my lens has changed. These are masterworks of color and composition that tell marvelous stories of a young family finding beauty.

They no longer bore me. They melt me.

Final lessons from Doc Finley’s unburied treasures: Take photos, print them, display them. Be in family photos, don’t hide. Your grandchildren will thank you. OS

Posted in Insider

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