Life is not fair, but oh what a ride!

I met Becky Hanson early in my horse riding journey. Becky had a way with horses and people! Although we didn’t live near each other, I would have the opportunity at some horse shows to absorb some of her training, how to sit a horse, timing the stop… and many other tips that helped me learn how to ride a performance horse.  Years would tick by and we would see each other at horse shows and always a kind word would pass between us. Becky was also a mother to her two young kids, wife to her husband David, and daughter to her mom Diane. Becky loved to take photos of nature. And she had a good eye. When I briefly flirted with opening a nail art salon, I asked Becky if I could display some of her work in my shop. We had many conversations and she sent me some of her work as samples. I convinced her that she needed to start signing her work. I never followed through with the shop on a scale where I could sell art as part of it, instead, I found photography. And that began an incredible journey for me. I switched from asking for her photographs to asking to photograph her! I drew on everyone from every facet of my life, and my horse experience was recent and I knew many folks there. I would court everyone, and Becky was ideal. But she showed little interest in coming to the studio. I would pursue her for a few years.

I don’t remember when she told me about her medical issue. Becky had glioblastoma, in her spine. Becky would write about it on her Facebook page and she put together a website called My Little Tumor Adventure. Her attitude was incredible. To the very end.

Finally, Becky agreed to come to my studio. She brought her daughter Lauren and her mom Diane and the road tripped down one beautiful day, stayed at a nearby hotel and spend a memorable day with me and Dana, my hair and makeup person.By the time she came to my studio, the tumor had already robbed her of function in one of her legs. But you would never know how difficult it must have been for her. She was amazing.

The following is what Becky wrote about the experience.

Arbitrary Epiphany # 19 – To Be or Not To Be Vain – Screw It, I’m Going for Vain!
The idea was met with exuberance on one front and resistance on the other. For some time now, photographer Kitti McMeel has asked to do portraits of me, but I have been lukewarm on the idea of taking the time to go to LA to have my pictures done. I mean come on, how vain is that?! Finally, Kitti suggested we do a “Generations Shoot” and include my Mom and Lauren. This idea appealed to me a little more and I agreed to try to talk my Mom into doing it….she and my Dad are like Bigfoot in their illusiveness and I have very few pictures of either one of them.
Of course Lauren agreed immediately because hair, makeup, and images of herself are nothing short of a winning lottery ticket in her book. After a little discussion, I talked my parents into driving down from Idaho, at which point the three of us girls would leave for a two day power trip to LA and back. So, after 9 hours in a car on Wednesday, my mom begrudgingly humored me and got back in the car at 6:00am Thursday morning for a 6 hour drive south (minus our detour at the Grapevine to hunt California wild flowers…..those pictures later). I tried to make it fun, a trip everybody would remember, and threw caution to the wind, splurging on a nice room in Westlake Village, followed by the option of a Spa treatment (which of course my mom refused), and a nice dinner with one of my favorite people, Aunt Brenda. Early the next morning the three of us headed to the studio where Kitti was waiting for us with her trusty hair and make-up artist Dana and a treasure trove of clothes and jewelry.
Now, what you have to understand is that as long as I can remember, my mom has never worn make up…shoot, she stayed home to raise 4 kids and I don’t think she even wore a bra until my high school years when she got sick of us all and got a job outside of the home (during that window there may have been a tiny bit of make-up)! Shopping is certainly not her gig either, so she doesn’t have a closet full of fancy cloths and other than a few minutes a day with a curling iron, she doesn’t place a lot of stock in spending time in the bathroom, engaged in what my Dad lovingly refers to as “Daily Resurrection.” None of this is a criticism, just fact. She has always had better things to do than worry about being girly. My daughter on the other hand spends hours with a nail polish bottle in her hand and is waiting with baited breath for me to allow her to wear something besides “a little mascara.” Like a sprinter on the block, she is experiencing fast twitch muscle spasms as she waits for the pistol shot that gives her the go ahead…a bottle of foundation in one hand and eye shadow in the other. I fall somewhere in the middle of these two scenarios. So, on Friday morning, like the Three Bears, (holding our vanity instead of porridge, hot, warm, cold) we filed into the studio, each with our own expectation of the day ahead.
When Lauren saw the sparkly outfits and the tooled skirts and the desk covered in make-up, she was of course all in, and when Dana busted out the air brush….the tiny foundation air compressor, I thought Lauren would combust. My mom on the other hand, remained smiling, but I’m sure was secretly thinking “what in the hell have I gotten myself into!” Those thoughts growing exponentially I’m sure as Kitti pulled outfits off of the clothes rack that she never in a million years would have considered wearing. When it was all said and done, we spent the better part of a day as Barbie Dolls….changing outfits and being organized into every sundry of family combinations in Kitti’s little magic studio. Lauren in heaven, me enjoying being bossed for a change instead of doing the bossing, and my mom putting on a smile as she cringed at the lipstick and earrings (which were clip ons because it had been so long since she had worn jewelry that her ear piercing had grown closed)!
It took Kitti a year or better to get me down there (I don’t know why I was so resistant to such a fabulous opportunity), but I finally gave in for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted to create a memory for Lauren that she will have always….a girl’s road trip with her mom and grandma. Things come and go, but memories (especially if accompanied by pictures!!) will hopefully last forever. Secondly, and don’t laugh because it is kind of cliche, it is just hard to feel attractive while watching your body, and certain parts of your life, wither away and die right before your eyes. Long term illness (and I use that word begrudgingly because I hate it) is hard and the changes it has brought to my person and my life are hard. When you feel horrible, some days rudimentary hygiene is barely attainable and nobody feels good about themselves when skipping a shower and brushing their teeth and putting on clean underwear, but there were days over the past three years when even those things were beyond my capability. The crutches, the walker (which I call a “chariot”), the inability to do what I once did, the incessant need of help, the doctor’s appointments, the disability, the deterioration of half of my parts…..it just doesn’t make a girl feel very pretty, so my vanity finally overtook my practicality, and the desire to prove I was still attractive, drove me to book the appointment.
Vanity aside, the third reason I went has been brewing for years and has affected me since my Grandma died a dozen or more years ago. She was an active, attractive, seemingly healthy 84 year old woman and one night while drinking her evening toddy, she had an aneurism and died shortly thereafter (actually sounds like a nice way to go doesn’t it?! Beverage in hand, lipstick on and hair done….that was my Grandma, always pristine….she was probably wearing a scarf around her neck and white golf shorts….trying to decide what to make for dinner when BAMM). Anyway, at her service, the family rounded up four or five good pictures of Grandma Willis from different eras of her life and I thought “This was an active, vibrant, smart, amazing, mother of four, grandmother of eight, great grandmother (at the time) of three, wife of a million years to my Grandpa Don and the best they can do is four good pictures?” To this day, I rarely refuse a picture of any kind. As I have come to understand, we are by no means guaranteed a tomorrow. Forever is a fantasy that some are privileged enough to live out, while others are denied and we just never know when our time will come. Good, bad, wacky, ugly, made up, dressed down, if someone asks me to smile in front of a lens, I will do it. I want my celebration of life to be full of photos and memories and crazy stories that will be passed on to grandkids and great grandkids and maybe even their kids. Once we are gone, there is nothing left but old photos and memories, and memories often become faded so let’s keep them alive with a drawer full of great photos. I wanted pictures with my Mom and with Lauren and I wanted Lauren to see herself as pretty and strong and as a part of a line of women who persevere, who triumph over adversity. So, I guess as I work through this Epiphany, there was really no “Vanity Aside” as my acquiescence to do these pictures was in fact 100% vanity, 100% desire to document a time in my life when things were tough, but we prevailed. To prove to myself that all is not lost. That I have triumphed. That creating experiences and memories for my family, despite adverstiy, is a legacy that I will leave behind someday far from now. Looks like in fact I am a little vain!! Oh well, add that to my obitchuary someday….”And she was Vain”. I won’t mind as long there are good pictures and a handful of memories of me to go along with it!
Recently her daughter Lauren has revived her mother’s work. I encourage you to check it out!
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