Friday, May 7, 2010

A tribute to my mother, Millie Alene Grimes 1935-1984

Twenty six years ago today, my mother took her last breath and left this earth. She was 48 years old. She died from melanoma.

I only knew my mother for 15 short years. As I grew older, I developed what I call "Mom Envy", always jealous of my female friends that were allowed the time to have adult relationships with their moms. I was always jealous of the lunches, the midnight talks and the advice. Boy, what I wouldn't give for one time just to laugh and talk with her again. But, what I didn't realize until this very week, is that my mom, despite that I only knew her for 15 short years, has shaped my life dramatically.

Mom always had a camera in her hand, always snapping photos of her kids. I must have 10,000 images of me and my brother and sister growing up, but I only have a handful of her. The problem, is that she was always behind the camera. One day, when I was 13, she announced that she was going to do a photo project, "1 photo a day for 1 year". I'm sure I rolled my teenager eyes at the shear mention of it. Unfortunately, her project lasted only two months, probably right after she realized just how much the film was going to cost to develop. But, now, I admire her spirit, and I recognize her goal. So much changes with kids, and life, everyday. I know she wanted to freeze the moments in between, to remember us when had moved out of the house, as adults on our own.

As I recalled that memory, just this past Monday, I had an epiphany. I'm trying to do the same thing...freeze memories. Not only for myself to help me remember moments that come and go, but for the many people I have met along the way. It hit me so hard, I had to sit down and cry.

As the years trickle by, I forget more and more. But I do remember a few things about her..., I can hardly remember her laugh, although I know she laughed often. I don't know what her favorite movie was, but I do remember going to watch old black and white movies at the Tivoli theater in Chattanooga with her and Dad when I was in elementary school. And, I don't know what her favorite cookies were, but I do have a recipe of hers for Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies that is my favorite. I also remember she loved animals as much as I do now.

I only have a few photos of my mom. My very favorite is the top one. I must have been only 4-6 months or so. It was taken in 1969 by one of my uncles, Donald or Ronald. She was 33 in this picture and she looks so happy.

The photo below was mom's prom photo in what I'm guessing is 1953. I LOVED this dress. From the time I can remember, I was always asking mom if I could wear it one day. But, tragically, the dress was thrown away soon after she wore it. The photo is taken at the Chickamauga National Battlefield, only about one mile from where I grew up. She loved that park and we spend a lot of time there. I remember her telling me she and Dad spent a lot of time there when they were dating and when they were first married. It's one of the places I go and visit when I go home. I've always felt at peace there.

This next photo is of me (on the left), Mom, my Granny, Corrine Webb, and my sister, Melanie. Three Generations. I remember this photo like it was yesterday. I remember the smell of the corn we had just picked from my uncle's farm that needed to be shucked, and the sounds of lawn mowers in the distance. I remember my Granddaddy fumbling with the Polaroid camera trying to get it to work. I also remember my Granny making me homemade strawberry ice cream right after this photo. How I miss her too.

This last photo is in the spring of 1984. Mom had been fighting cancer for almost one year. Mom wasn't offered chemotherapy and didn't qualify for clinical trials, her melanoma was too advanced once discovered. Her doctors told her to make peace and live her last year the best she could. I can't imagine how scared she must have felt and what pain she must have been in, but she still managed a smile. She was braver and stronger than I can ever imagine having to be.

And then it happened, about five years ago. I looked down, and saw my mothers feet. I literally felt like I was 5 years old, and helping my mom put on a pair of sandals. I have her feet. Then, just recently, I went shopping. I looked in the mirror and my mother stared back. I don't know if it was what I was trying on in the dressing room, a particular thing my hair was doing that day, or if I've looked like my mother all along. I cried tears held back for 26 years. All those years yearning to hear her voice, all those years wanting to hug her neck, there she was...right inside of me all along.

Today I celebrate my mother's time on earth. I celebrate the love she had for her family, her friends, and for the thousands of frozen moments she captured for me in the form of photographs.

Despite how long she's been gone and the fact I only knew her for 15 years, I owe my current life to her. I hope she knows just how thankful I am.

I love you Mom.


  1. Oh, Melissa! This made me cry! I see you in all the photos of your mom, but especially the last one. What a beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Dear Melissa~

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful and personal story along with photographs that share the sweetness. I am really moved by this entry and as I write I am crying along with you. Your mom was obviously an amazing woman who took great pride in herself and what a wonderful thing to feel and see all the beauty of her within you. I hope this realization that she is always with you gives you some comfort and makes your smile a little wider and your heart a lighter.

    I imagine she is quite proud of you and knows just how much you appreciate and love her.

    Love and Blessings to you,

  3. :.......) What a beautiful tribute. I need to remember and appreciate my mom more. Thanks for the give of being reminded how lucky I am!!! :)

  4. What a sweet and touching story Melissa! The story brought tears to my eyes. Your mom would be so proud of who you are and all that you do.

    Thanks for sharing!


  5. Melissa,
    This was so moving and beautiful. I am so sorry that you lost your mom so early. But I am so happy that you are now discovering her as you go through life. You are a very talented photographer and a very good human being. She did a great job for the short time she was able to be with you!
    Love, Lisa

  6. Okay. I don't know why I was on facebook. I don't even have an account. I never ever go on it. The Lord brought you to my mind today. So here I am on Chris facebook, and I realize why I'm here. It doesn't seem that long ago when your mother went to be with the Lord, but sometimes it seems like forever ago. It's so hard for me to imagine what she went through those last days knowing she was going to be leaving her kids. I remember how much she loved you and how proud she was of you! I remember her watching us practice cheerleading in your front yard and smiling. I have no doubt she is proud of you in heaven and one day you will have eternity with her to ask her all the questions you still have about her favorites! I can tell you one thing. You were one of her very favorites! You know its funny because Chris has his Dad's feet and hands. I remember when he was dying and holding his hand, I looked down and sobbed becuase it felt like it was Chris' hand. I thought of you and your Dad at dinner the other night when I yelled up to the kids, "You want to eat, you want to eat?" You are so lucky to have such a wonderful father. I just wish you had more time with your mother. But one day......
    I love you and you are in my prayers!

  7. Hey Melissa-
    amazing tribute to your mom & I agree- I can see you in all the pictures- you have her spirit in the older ones & look so much like her in the later ones. I think it is awesome that she was so into photography & here you are a photographer- that is beyond cool.
    I think that in & of itself is a great tribute to her- following your dreams (and being pretty darn successful at it).


  8. Wow ... just beautiful!! This is an amazing tribute! One I know you have spent a lot of time thinking about over the years and one I know your mother is very proud of! You mother was a beautiful woman ... just like her daughter is now! I need to go wipe away some tears now ....

    Tina Wright

  9. Meggan BrownfieldMay 7, 2010 at 4:22 PM

    What a beautiful rememberance of your mother. Thanks for freezing my memories and thanks for reminding us all how important mothers are.

  10. Your story captures you mom's memory and a daughter's love for her mom better then anything I've ever read. I'm honored that you shared it and can't believe, now that I know more about her, how much you are like her!! That is obviously a huge compliment. Miss you!

  11. WOW, SO special and SO beautiful. I hope you print this or frame this and pass along...

  12. You made me cry! I have always had little moments with the kids when the thought would pop into my brain how much your mom would love seeng that particular moment or being with them at that special stage of their life. And I would almost immediately realize that she WAS there, watching them, laughing, and caring for them!
    I am glad you have so many happy memories of her. And you should realize that she is right there every time you snap a picture and capture a lifelong memory for someone else...all the people you work with.
    I know she is proud of you every day!

  13. I bet she had a laugh just like you! I love her in that prom dress. Great shot and what a cute name, Millie!

  14. Melissa, that was just so incredibly beautiful. So classy, the way you put this all together. When I finished it last night, I was on the verge of tears. Your mother's story, all the special memories, your recollection of what was happening the day of that third photo, and even your recent insights were all very moving. Really happy you shared this with everyone, so inspiring!!


  15. Melissa, I can hardly see what I'm typing because of the tears in my eyes. This was beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  16. I lost my mom when I was 5, so I had/have mom envy, too. I can totally relate.
    BTW, I won your GC from the SS Luna Fest silent auction, so you get to photograph my family and I, this year! :)