My father was in sales--in auto parts sales to be more exact--with TRW his whole career. This company hired a cast of characters for their sales force, or at least, the ones working in my father's territory that I met were quite the group. These men trickled in and out of our house after working together --and more specifically driving together-- for long periods of time. I saw some only here and there, but their personalities stayed with me. One, though, was different.
Ben was all Italian and all hilarious. He was also all heart. Ben also spent more time with our family, sometimes joining us on family vacations or holidays. I was thrilled with this, because those times weren't always easy in my house. Best of all, Ben loved ME. I think looking back that Ben might have wanted to be a husband and father and it didn't happen for him, and he got to do some fathering with me. He was so fun with me, and always made it seem like he was coming to see me and no one else.
He drove this huge green Bronco that was always a mess inside, loaded with fishing and photography equipment-- his two passions. His favorite thing to do when he came to visit was to drive by our house four or five times, as if he was lost, as if he couldn't see me and my six year old crazy self jumping up and down wildly in the driveway, waving for all I was worth. It became this funny tradition with us even after I was old enough to know he knew where he was going. ;0)
Ben loved talking to me and listening and teaching me to fish. But most of all, he loved teaching me about photography, and I can say that he succeeded in passing his love and passion on to me in that field. This past week, I really thought about getting serious about pursuing some photography on the side, and I thought about Ben teaching me when the camera was bigger than my head. He had all this expensive equipment and he never hesitated to let me hold it, to change the lenses with eight-year-old hands, or to ask a million questions. And while I may not be an expert yet, I know that I owe my "eye" and perspective to him. I look through the lens a totally different way than I would have were it not for Ben. I can so vividly remember him whispering as I held the camera. "Now, see, stupid people, they take pictures this way. What YOU want to do is this..." I would giggle uncontrollably and then listen carefully. I still think that a lot when holding the camera up to take a shot...now, stupid people, they do this...and I still giggle.
Ben was nothing if not funny. And I don't mean sort of funny. Lord, the man was a walking comedy show. His facial expressions--I have never met anyone with more--were a riot in themselves. And eating--this man loved to eat! And he made noises the entire time. Noises of pure love and joy for food. Ben showed me there was joy in life and all the things in it.
The thing I also remember, Ben took a lot of pictures OF me--something I hated. I would avoid the lens, look down, and he would try his best to get me to look at him. I have a lot of pictures where I finally do- he was one of the few people I would do that with. I look at some of those pictures and can see a struggle-- and a smile for him.
He also would say things while he was teaching me photography, or to fish, or to do some other crazy thing...I remember once he said "You are just going to grow up and be amazing!" I had to look away. He had no idea what those words meant, and how I held onto that.
Words are so powerful--and we forget that kids do remember--the good and the bad.
I am so thankful for these memories of Ben and for this gift he has given me--that makes me love taking photos and salivate over the thought of getting my camera out for a day of shooting.
I only recently found out that Ben has relocated not too far from here--and unfortunately recently had a stroke. I am preparing to go see him and thank him in person.
And yes, I will take my camera.