A Ghost of an Idea for This Christmas Season

(December 11, 2018)

No, not a Tiffany diamond. Or a new teddy bear or iPhone. And definitely not something from the Neiman Marcus catalog.

Rather, it is a ghost. Seriously. Can you imagine a more exciting, eye-popping sensation that presenting a ghost at the family gathering? One with its own history.  Surely the ghosts in Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol will have been read, talked about and possibly seen. Those ghosts of Christmas past, present and future that haunted Ebenezer Scrooge into being a better human being remain the classics.

As are the fun ones that haunt the Whaley House and the Hotel del Coronado.

But, the ghosts most desirable this season, do not require an admission ticket, a ferry boat ride across the harbor or even a library card to check out The Man Who Invented Christmas.  The most valuable ghosts are hiding in a drawer, a shoebox, an album, or a memory bank.  Go find them. Find that photograph that speaks to you.

Everyone has a photograph. And every photograph tells a story. A fascinating story that only needs discovery and the telling.  And you, the gift-giver, are the main ingredient in the story.

I wish I had. After her passing, that photograph began to haunt me.

Luckily, my godmother, aunt, and the woman who—in the absence of a doctor at Mercy hospital—literally delivered me into this world (she was an RN, like my mother) decided that we should take a journey.

We went back to the Dakotas, by train, to visit the remaining relatives with more stories, photographs, a trip to the cemetery, and some fascinating stories tells, Colleen O’Connor.  Suffice it to say, I was wrong about grandma and her sisters. And humbled.

These women were farmers, seamstresses (they made the dresses in the photograph), homesteaded land in their own name (rare in any state), rode horses and could shoot, skin and cook their own dinner.

In short, my grandmother (also a suffragette who held meetings in her house) would be amazed that I made a living standing in front of students and talking.

That photograph, of grandma and her sisters, led to a city-wide millennial project (“Faces of San Diego”), numerous photographic exhibitions, a book by the same name, and a nationwide National Endowment for the Humanities grant to collect family photographs nationwide.

Times of San Diego