Birdie Joy Lowenhaupt was the middle child of Samuel Brown and Lois Miles Lowenhaupt, Covington, Tennessee. She was bright and happy, and loved school. Shyness didn't keep her from being good company but did limit her time with strangers. She was accomplished, earning her masters degree when my brother and I were in high school, and had a career as a media specialist. My brother, Mike, taught her to swear and those words, in her hands, would send them both into peals of laughter when she came home to describe her day.
I adored her. I knew something was wrong years before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. She began sending me boxes of cicada shells and Mona Lisas, believing she was adding to things I collected. The clippings she sent eventually had no start and finish; no right side and wrong side. And she would describe me to people as outgoing and brilliant—two things I definitely was not. One day, she stopped remembering me at all.
Mama was always creative. She would draw googly eyes on my math homework when I was staring at the page in teary-eyed frustration. When I stopped eating meat at 13, she stopped cooking meat. My father didn't know for years that he was a vegetarian. She would send boxes of cut gardenias so I could enjoy the smell and empty Ensure bottles for my dogs to play with. Because she was inventive, I'm not sure I saw the Alzeheimer's from the beginning. At first it just looked like imagination.
Joy and Lois
I know it's not a good picture. My father took it. But I love her calmness and level gaze. You know she loves the person she is looking at.
She's wearing her Walmart pants and shirt and a hand-me-down jacket from a friend of mine. She loved thrift.
My mother hated how impossible it was to get her wet hands into rubber gloves. My father built her this glove gizmo that solved the problem.
The Before Closet
She loved a good white shirt.
The After Closet
Keeping Things in Order
Daniel I. Moore
I remember him as a young man, yet he died at 90. What does that say about me?
He loved my mother beyond all else, every day of his life. His life holds many stories but this was the one that meant the most to me. After caring for my mother at home for the eight years of her insidious disease, he came to live with me.
These photos are from those last years.
90th Birthday Lunch
90th birthday lunch
I hope he can't hear this camera.
My Father's Still Life
The first time he didn't pose for a photo
Just Bring Me a Beret
My mother's sister, Lois, is 87 now. Having recently lost her husband, she lives in her family home in Covington, built by her grandfather. My childhood memories of this place are important to me. I worry that creating new memories there will mangle the old ones. In some ways, those old memories are more important to me than new ones.
I go back to notice what hasn't changed and what has. It makes we feel oddly ageless to have memories that span so long.
In & Around Mitchell County
Mitchell County is in western North Carolina in the Appalachian Mountains. This is where I've lived for 20+ years, having moved here for work. The natural beauty here is astounding. The manmade environment is often an unexpected counterpoint.