Before the Return

When I first saw this photo of my step-grandmother, it really touched my heart. There she is, standing behind the shed, her hands clasped behind her back while she looks down in thought. Did she just make a trip to the clothesline to hang that sheet and then take a moment for herself? Was she worried about something? Someone? Or did she just step out of sight to take some time for herself, to breath in the fresh morning air and feel the warm sun on her shoulders? I have so many questions, including who took the photo. I suspect it was my stepfather.

Juana “Jean” Perry (1885-1974)
Grammie Perry

Juana Madeline (Greenwood) Perry was born February 16, 1885 in Shelburne County, NS. Her first name was pronounced wah-nuh, but she was called “Jean” as it was easier for most folks, given the unusual spelling. On December 28, 1908, Jean married Enos Elliott Perry and they settled in North East Harbour, Shelburne County, NS. She gave birth to eight children; six boys (Elliott, Osborne, Harold, Ralph, Norman, my stepfather Eugene) and two girls (Mildred, Laura Ellen who died in infancy). She lived during two world wars and watched four of her sons enlist in WWII, one of which was my stepfather. They all came back home safely.

Who might have taken the photo?

Just before boarding the newly commissioned HMCS Amherst in August 1941, my stepfather Eugene bought a little Kodak camera. I have several photo albums documenting his many trips across the Atlantic during WWII. In his words, they were “the best years of my life”.

Looking at this photo of Grammie Perry, I think it was taken mid-1940s. In 1945, she would have been 60-years old. I imagine her thinking and worrying about her sons’ return from the war. My stepfather might have arrived, duffel bag over his shoulder and camera in hand, running into the house asking where his mother was, excited to be home. Another family member might have directed him out to the clothesline. He drops his bag and runs around to the shed, finding her there in a moment of quiet solitude. With a photographer’s eye, he admires her for a second or two, inhaling a thankful breath before quickly depressing the camera’s shutter. Then hearing him call “Mom”, imagine the look on her face as she turns around to see her son safe and home from the long war.

By the time I came around in 1965, Grammie Perry, as she was known to me and her many grandchildren, family members and friends in the community, was about 80-years old. After the war, my stepfather built a house next door to Grammie’s house. That is where I grew up. When I was old enough to run by myself along the worn path between her house and ours, I would go visit her and Grampie most days. She passed away October 6, 1974 at the age of 89. I was 9-years old.

What drew me to this photo is that it’s not typical. There are no smiling faces, no activity or action that would be an obvious subject for the camera. I’m not sure that my depiction of what might have happened is true, but the photo evokes such a soft sweet emotion and it moved me to try and recreate it in a watercolour painting. Mind you, I have not been painting very long. It’s an artform I decided to try during a Covid lockdown. I hope you like it.

“Before the Return”

Prints of this little painting will be available for sale on my site in the very near future.

You may notice a few changes on this blog and website over the next few weeks or so. I appreciate your patience and I promise everything will be as it should very soon.

SHARE with your friends:

You Might Also Like