Sunday, June 17, 2018

She’s Got Her Father’s Eye

By Edie Melson @EdieMelson 

It's been almost two-and-a-half-years since Daddy won his ultimate battle with Alzheimer's and Jesus took him home. Today, in honor of Father's Day, I'd like to share some of my memories of him. 

My daddy was a man who knew how to follow his dreams—always traveling via the scenic route. As a young man, he played in numerous bands—the big band type, not the rock band type—built his own sailboat, and took to the road as he embraced his love of photography and travel. 

When he and mother married, instead of slowing him down, he acquired a traveling partner. They didn’t even let the birth of two daughters hold them back from their adventures. 

Growing up, my sister and I spent weeks at a time in the back of a Volkswagen van as my parents plotted our path on new adventures—crisscrossing the United States numerous times over the years. I’ve fried an egg on the pavement in Death Valley, scraped ice from the inside of the van during a blizzard, and spent numerous nights camping on top of what used to be Mount St. Helens. 

Instead of a formal dining room, our house had an eat-in kitchen where the counters were more likely to be covered with paint, photography paraphernalia, and turpentine than dishes and desserts. 

Some of my earliest memories were of my mom and dad following their creative pursuits. I’d spend many days playing under my mother’s stool as she sat at her easel and painted. Instead of stories, we discussed colors. I think I learned how to read a color wheel—with primary, secondary, and tertiary colors—about the same time I learned to read. She shared theories on perspective and technique as I quietly drank in the basics of an art appreciation education. 

My time with my father happened differently. By day, he was a music professor who rode his bicycle back and forth to teach at the university. In the evening, he often had gigs with the symphony, the ballet or the opera. Later was when the magic happened. He’d come in keyed up from an evening performance and turn to his own version of art to unwind. 

His passion was black and white photography. Sometimes during the day he’d let me help him prepare for a night of printing his creations. This involved watching him mix the chemicals that would activate the images on his silver-infused paper. He’d pour the mixtures into heavy brown glass jugs, seal the tops, and set them on their sides on the floor. Then we’d spend almost an hour rolling those containers back and forth across the room to mix the chemicals. I loved helping him with this, partly because he wasn’t home much, but also because I knew if he spent the afternoon mixing chemicals then that night he’d be printing. 

So late on those nights, when I was supposed to be sleeping, I’d slip down the hall to watch him bring images to life. If he spied me peeking around the corner, he’d often let me come in and watch. He’d handle the negatives with care and patiently explain each part of the process as he worked with his enlarger and slipped the precious paper—containing the emerging images—from one tray of chemicals to the next on their way to becoming photographs. 

Daddy and I had another tradition. 

When we traveled, he loved to get up before the sun and race to the place he’d decided would have just the right light and to capture the sunrise on film. I got to go with him on these predawn jaunts. Mother would wake me up while the stars still shone bright and help me slip into my warmest clothes. I’d have to dress in the dark so I wouldn’t wake up my still-sleeping baby sister. 

Daddy would gather up his gear, grab me by the hand and off we’d go into the night. On these excursions, I’d get to sit up front with him as we drove (It was the 60s; everyone did it.), and he’d explain where we were going and why he’d chosen that particular spot. 

When we arrived, my job was always the same. I carried the tripod. Early on that was quite a feat because it was almost as big as me. But through the years I grew into my task. Once he got settled in the right spot, with all his cameras at the ready, I had a second duty. His one hard and fast rule was that no matter what, I stayed with the tripod. He might wander to get the best shots, but I wasn’t allowed to move from my position. 

I didn’t fully understand why at the time, but looking back at those pictures I shudder at where we were. As a mother, I would have nightmares if my kids had been relatively unsupervised in those locations. He took sunrise pictures on the tops of mountains, at the edges of canyons, and on rocky outcroppings where one wrong foot fall could have sent us plummeting to certain injury, if not worse. 

I never saw the danger. I was with my daddy, and we were on nothing more than a grand adventure. 

When I turned ten, he bought me my own camera and I began to take pictures too. He claimed they were good. Even mother told me that I had my daddy’s eye for capturing just the right composition and light. 

Eventually, other things captured my interest and the camera gathered dust on a closet shelf. Like many kids, I didn’t always appreciate the life I had. Being born into a family of creatives had its challenges. As a teenager, the last thing I wanted was be seen as different. I didn’t want to spend weeks at a time with my parents and baby sister in a stuffy van with no air conditioning. While all my friends were hanging out with boyfriends and shopping and giggling through the night at slumber parties, I began to dream of a normal family with amusement park Saturdays and regular bedtimes. 

I vowed that when I had a family, we’d stay far away from family adventures. I’d give my kids the benefit of a normal upbringing. So I left my childhood behind to become a responsible adult. We raised a family with three active boys, and now they’re grown men with families of their own. 

Daddy is gone too—after a ten-year battle with Alzheimer’s.

While I was trying to work through my grief, a longing welled up in my soul. A heart’s cry to reconnect with Daddy and the girl I was. This led me back to photography. 

I pulled out my camera and began to quietly experiment. I didn’t want anyone to know and perhaps shatter this fragile tie to my father. So I wandered on my own and let memories of walking with him lead me. As I began to stretch my photographic wings, I felt a renewed closeness with Daddy. I soon replaced that old camera with a more modern one, and my heart sang with joy as I realized I remembered so much of what he’d taught me. 

Then I took a chance and began to show others some of my images. The feedback was amazing. But I knew I’d come full circle when I began to hear again and again, “You’ve got your daddy’s eye.”

(NOTE: to keep up with the photography side of my life, visit my Instagram account. @Stop2Pray)

A Father's Day tribute to my amazing Daddy - @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

She's got her father's eye—coming full circle as a daddy's girl - @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)


  1. What a wonderful blessing Ms. Edie. Thank you so much for sharing. Learning about your parents, I can see why you are so talented. God's blessings ma'am. I cannot help but think of how blessed your and your husband's children must be.

  2. Sounds to me you had an amazing childhood and a great father.
    Thanks for sharing your memories.

  3. Wonderful, Edie. Thank you for this. Thank you.

    Jay Wright
    Anderson, SC

  4. Very nice tribute Edie. You're blessed to have such sweet memories of your daddy. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Now we know why you're so talented. :)

  6. Thank y’all so much for being patient as I share something a little more personal!

  7. Edie: This is a beautiful tribute to your dad. Thank you for sharing.

  8. It's the personal touch that makes the connection. The question is, do we realize what we have before we lose it and just don't think we'll lose it, as some have suggested? I personally believe most of us don't realize what we have until it's gone. It's like the yeast in bread.As the song says, 'memories, sweetened through the ages...'