I don't know when the minstrel came to our household or from where. But it was ages ago and he's been with us ever since. In 1976, when we were still living in Sarnia, he was there. I have a picture to prove it, one of two little figure studies I did during a creative photographic binge with my Practica SLR. After that the documentation gets murky, but I'm sure if we went carefully through family albums we'd find him lurking here and there in the background.
He found his way to Jordan Station and took up his post, for the next twenty five years, on the fireplace hearth I think. Then he came along with mom to Heidelberg Village in St. Catharines, and for ten years stood on the floor in the living room. Not for him the vantage of a Toy Soldier on the mantel. Now, with mom gone, he's at our house, languishing in a corner, still on the floor, beside the piano nobody plays.
I'm sure he misses dad the most - they were kindred spirits I think. The minstrel always looked a bit mournful -- no doubt the ballad he sings is a tragedy. But I detect a hint of a smile too, from wry observations, over so many years, of the de Jong family; the gatherings, the party's, the music, the children and then the grandchildren. Who's to know how many times he's been picked up and looked in the eye with curiosity or empathy before being set down and forgotten again.
He was uppermost in my mind when I conceived the 'Objects of Affection' project. Mom had been in hospital, out of her apartment for months already before she died, and I felt keenly the inevitable disconnect between her place with all of its 'stuff' and the family that still felt it as home. I wanted to honour some of those objects before they resumed their mundane existences elsewhere. My wife and I were going to Killbear Provincial Park in early October for the vacation that we'd put off and I knew it would be the perfect place for our minstrel to have his own, once-in-a-lifetime, mountain-top experience.
We camped at the foot of Harold's Point -- that magnificent, bald-topped, cliff-faced out-cropping of rock, with its panoramic view of Georgian Bay, that is a signature of Killbear. When we were there last, for just a few days, we enjoyed a gorgeous sunset, and I was counting on a reprise to set the scene for the minstrel's portrait. The first evening the colours were great, but we weren't quite set up and didn't have the energy for a hike up to the top. The next two nights were a bust -- too much cloud or not enough.
By the fourth evening it was do or die, so we clambered to the top again and set up under an overcast sky, hoping that the sun would break through, if only for a moment, for our shot at glory. I snapped a few trial shots, all within the space of ten minutes, but it was pretty clear the sun would not be coming. So we put the minstrel back in the bag and explored a bit for ourselves instead.
That was my last chance, so I had to resign myself to the reality of the four shots that I got. It's still a beautiful place, I told myself, and the light did have a subtle beauty to it. I thought of dad and mom embarking on their 'glory' years of retirement, only to have cancer immediately clouding their lives and never parting. Mom chafed at that injustice. But through it all, those five years yet with dad and ten years alone, the light may have been lacking but the vista was still grand.
Stiny de Jong never let her gaze wander from the big picture, even with all of its darkness. And the minstrel probably had it right all along with his beautifully tragic ballad. This portrait of mine -- more landscape really -- captures that in a way that I had not planned. In sunsets as in life, there is no light so lovely as that which breaks through darkness.
Henry J. de Jong, November, 2016
Objects of Affection
2016 Photo Exhibition