Saturday, August 27, 2005

Serendipitous insight

Funny how a chance meeting for just a few moments can make all the difference in one's life. I still remember when the seed to my passion for photography sprouted. Back in the early 1970s, a guy named Jack Swanson worked as a photographer at the Daily Bee. He was a phenomenal photojournalist. I was the adviser of the yearbook at the time. For some reason, my editor and I were at the newspaper office talking to Mr. Swanson when he invited us into the darkroom.

It took probably ten minutes for him to show us how a black and white photo comes to life from time the image, caught on a negative, is transferred to the photographic paper through light exposure from an enlarger. Watching him drop that paper into those three trays of dektol (allows the image to appear on the page, stop bath (stops the action of the action of the dektol) and fixer (fixes the image on the paper so it won't go away) changed my life.

It all seemed so magical. I instantly knew I wanted to do this. What better way to learn it than through our yearbook activities! Within days, our staff owned a Ricoh 35 mm SLR camera. Within hours of learning the basic steps for using the camera, we had snapped a couple of rolls of film. We hadn't' learned the darkroom techniques yet, but that would come.

I would advise the yearbook for 14 years. We would eventually produce every photo (except the class mugs) that went into the annual. It would mean hours of work after school and on weekends, but the skills gained by students creating their yearbook with such a hands-on approach would send some of them into situations that, for some, would mean exciting world travel or lifetime careers.

One of the students actually accompanied the Time Magazine photographer who snapped photos of the four "Time Men of the Year." That mean jetting to South Africa, Tunisia, and Jerusalem. He also worked as an assistant for the photographer who does most Rollingstone Magazine covers. Another has worked as a production manager for national TV commercials and now runs the photo operations for Coldwater Creek. This wide photographic swath was influenced years before by one man's willingness to take ten minutes of his time to show me the magic of photography.

That's why a few moments at last night's fair reminds me that it's often the little things, the little spontaneous gestures that can make such a difference in a person's life. In this particular case, my life changed a bit as did those of two young women in their '30s. They're the daughters of Mary Margaret "Peggy" Broehl, who was my classmate for several years.

I first met Peggy in the summer before the seventh grade. We were all representing our 4-H clubs at the county home economics demonstration contest. That was the day my infamous cake demonstration (chronicled in my book Pocket Girdles occurred). Peggy probably didn't laugh quite as loud as those fiendish women did when my cake batter started climbing up the Sunbeam mixer blades, so she remained my friend.

Because my name was "Brown" and her name was "Broehl," we sat next to each other in a lot of classes from junior high through college. We also remained good friends. After graduating from the University of Idaho and returning to Sandpoint, where that photography seed was hatched, I subscribed to Life Magazine because I loved its black-and-white photos. One day, while flipping through the pages, I came to an article about an out-of-work Boeing engineer.

Through copy and dramatic photos, it showed how the engineer and his family were managing their lives on a lot less money. Suddenly, I zeroed in on a very familiar face; it was my friend Peggy Broehl. Some of the skills she'd learned in 4-H were aiding her in getting through this temporary family challenge. To say it was a thrill to see my classmate on the pages of Life Magazine is an understatement.

That was the last I heard or saw of Peggy for several years until her nephew sat in my study hall at Sandpoint High School. When I asked him what ever happened to Peggy, he stunned me by reporting that she had died from cancer a few years before. It took a while for that to set in, for sure. Years later, I met a nice young lady working at one of the local coffee shops. When we got to talking, once again I was stunned. She was Peggy's daughter Effie, and she had returned to her mother's hometown after living in Seattle.

Last night I saw Effie again----next to the Wurst Man's booth, where else? We visited for a few minutes. She left and then returned with her younger sister. Once more I was struck. There were Peggy's eyes and expression staring right back at me.

We talked for maybe 15 minutes. I told them what I could remember about their mother. They listened intently to every word as I shared anecdotes about the mother they had lost when they were 6 and 3, respectively. I promised them a class reunion booklet and the enlarged yearbook page (made for our reunion) which shows Peggy and me side by side at the top of the page.

Next to our senior portraits were our high school activities and aims for our lives ahead. While my goal was to be "the first to eat the green cheese sandwiches," Peggy's read, "To live with a song in my heart."

Suddenly, I realized this scene with these young women at the county fair was another of those powerful moments like I'd experienced so long ago in that darkroom when Jack Swanson opened a new dimension in my life. I'm just hoping that last night's visit with Peggy Broehl's lovely daughters leaves their hearts singing with new and life-enhancing thoughts about the mother they knew for such a short time.


Anonymous said...

wow and i was there!


Word Tosser said...

Thanks for the walk down memory lane, I had forgotten about Mom's dark room... better known to the rest of us as our one and only bathroom. And at the age of 10 I was finally allowed in. Before we were threatend with surely death if we even put our hands on that door knob. And at the age of 10, I stood there and watch the picture come up on the paper like magic.
thanks again.
And what a wonderful time to be able to tell those two young ladies about their Mom. Almost brought tears to my eyes.

Anonymous said...

I was sad to learn at our reunion that Peggy had passed away. She was one of those rare spirits that every one liked. The story left me with tears in my eyes and happy that I had the pleasure of knowing her for a short time and happy to know that she lives on through her children.

effie said...

Thank you Marianne for your gift of insight into our mother and what she was like. And I so appreciate you offer to give us the reunion paper and picture, it will mean so much to us. I have some memmories, mostly that she was my best friend and I felt so special when we did things together. See you soon,

jan margaret said...

I so enjoyed meeting you and hearing your stories about my mom. I only have one memory of her so I do rely on other people's memories and insights to who she really was. I hope we will have a chance to meet again. Thank you.

Paula said...

Being the oldest of Peggy's girls, I remember her the most. I remember reading with her while eating chocolate chips in bed, berry picking and making jelly, family camping trips, drinking tea with evaporated milk when I was sick but most of all I remember cooking with Mom.
Christmas time she would make 18 different kinds of cookies and fudge just to give them all away! We'd go with when she delivered platefuls of assorted cookies to friends and mail them off to others.
I remember when Mom told me she had cancer, that was in the kitchen, too. Shortly before she died, Effie and I made her chocolate cake paring down one of her recipies so it would fit in my Easy-Bake oven. She had us go get her the camera so she could take pictures of us, chocolate on our faces, presenting her with the little layer cake. I still remember how proud and happy she was for making her cake, even though she was too sick to eat it.
Thank you for sharing your memories as all mine are from the perspective of a child. It's fun to know who she was as a woman, too.

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