THE GARDEN  [Gratitude Story]

My grandpa was a spectacular person. A humble rags to riches man who mastered the art of dedicating himself fully to both his business and his family. He provided beautifully for our family through his hard work and innovation.

He built a lake house in Texas that we called “The Homeplace”.  It was a stately home on a large plot of land. Long double staircases glided from the balconies onto sprawling grass lawns that met the water’s edge. Tall stands of pine trees tucked the oasis away from the rest of the world. A fairytale stone bridge crossed an inlet that led to an english style garden with mysterious marble statues, secret tree carvings, and trickling streams. Behind the garden - an art studio where my grandma painted landscapes. The home's interior was a museum of artifacts and antiques he’d collected on his adventures around the world. 

My most vivid childhood memories are hot summer days here, turning this home into every part of the globe. I was Indiana Jones digging through ancient books in my grandpas library. I was a pirate building rafts out of sticks on the lakeshore. I was a king having high tea with grandma on the back veranda. I was Jackson Pollock making a beautiful mess of paint and ideas in the studio. 

Most importantly. This was a gathering place. If you were under this roof, you were family. And with that, feelings of safety, compassion, and love were the foundation of “The Homeplace”. 

After my grandfather passed, the house was sold. The Homeplace lived and breathed memories that were too hard for my grandma to be around. This felt like the end of a golden era for our family. A treasured chapter closed. And with this came a lot of pain. For the next few years, it felt as though the shadows of grief and loss blurred the beautiful memories that this sanctuary provided. 

It was not until last summer that I truly realized the immense gratitude I have for this special place and its role in my story.

Last summer I took a cross-country road trip for two months on a photography project. I spent long hours in the car day in and day out. Ample time to reflect. Time to think about who I’ve been and who I want to be. 

At the time, I was struggling to discern my path. I had just finished my master's degree and felt immense pressure to “grow up”.  To make something of myself. My friends were all in wonderful corporate positions. I felt a deep unspoken expectation toward this career realm. Rejection letters from dozens of job apps were piling up as my conflicting dream to spend my life making art and exploring the world grew undeniably stronger. Until this particular day on the road, I couldn’t shake a feeling of guilt and inferiority surrounding my vision to pursue a creative career. I was swallowed up by imposter syndrome. Teetering between perceived expectations and true fulfillment.

I was driving through a beautiful wooded area of Tennessee when I was suddenly overwhelmed with a feeling that my grandfather’s spirit was with me. I had never felt this way before. I’m still not sure that I can describe it clearly. The feeling was so strong that I spoke to him for the first time since his passing. I said out loud, “Are you proud of me?”

As I meandered down the curvy road, I went into a deep reflection of my summers at The Homeplace. Of the imaginative adventures I lived there with my cousins. Of the first cameras I used - my grandfathers. I remembered how he always encouraged me to make art. To make movies and photographs. How he’d always help me develop my pictures or put my movies on DVDs and host “premiers” in the living room. He was the spark that ignited this dream of mine. I had never connected my current creative ambitions with these deep memories of my grandfather. I felt like he was moving through these memories with me.

I parked the car. 

On the side of the road, I realized my grandpa built everything he did so that his grandchildren could have the space to dream. To imagine. To flourish creatively and freely. And this space is still a part of me every day. The purpose of “The Homeplace” is alive in every photo I take. 

This brought me deep peace. This brought me comfort and clarity in my journey. It made my visions for myself feel real. These dreams have been with me all along. I am not an imposter to this creative path. 

He did answer my question. “Are you proud of me?” - As I stepped out of the car to take a photo of sun coming through the trees, this flood of memories was his warm voice saying “Yes. I am proud of you. Keep going.” I snapped the photo, and dropped to my knees in tears of gratitude for this moment of solace with my grandpa.

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