One recent Saturday morning I woke up at 4 a.m. to pack up my photo equipment and head from Atlanta to Jones County to take sunrise photos at a site my Dad told me he used to ride his bike to in the mornings as a young boy to watch the sunrise. He said it was a site to behold. Well…directions and signs that aren’t there anymore sabotaged me getting to the right spot, but I still got a shot or two from an other vantage point. Lesson learned…next time take my Dad with me. I’ll bribe him with donuts to get up that early, lol.
“Sunrise in Jones County, GA” (2015)
My first real stop that day was at my paternal grandparents’ homesite (now affectionately called “Wiley’s Way” after years ago having undergone a renovation by my Dad, Mom, myself and others who helped us), I got out of my car and walked around to take shots of the homesite that holds so many memories for me….
“Mornings on Big Mama’s Porch” – Wiley’s Way (2015)
“Old Reliable” – Wiley’s Way (2015)
Feeling a presence, I looked up to see what felt to me to be a majestic winged protector of the homesite since my Dad wasn’t there that day.
“The Sentinel” (2015)
He never felt threatening to me but he did circle back and forth looking down until he seemed to realize I was family stopping by to visit. He then glided away and left me to finish my photo shoot. I was able to capture him before he left. He was breathtaking.
I headed to the third stop on my route for the day – the homesite property of my paternal great-grandfather “Big Papa” who passed away before I was born.
I had heard stories about the property and land where he and his second wife Mattie called home.
My Dad, Uncles and Aunts have many fond memories of growing up living or visiting there, but I had never been there myself. I knew there was history, stories and spirits of my ancestors and I had to visit and explore if I hoped to be able to do justice to his part of my #StoriesToTell project. So I pulled up in the driveway as my Dad taught me to do when I was down home when showing up uninvited – I honked my horn twice and waited to see if someone would come to greet me. After a few minutes I kind-looking lady walked up to my car, we introduced ourselves, and as it turns out we’re both professional photographers!
She said she’d be happy to walk around with me and share what she knows about the history and land they now call home that used to be Big Papa’s homesite. So I wait while she changes into warmer, hiking attire, and thus begins a day and experience I’ll never forget.
Maryllis Wolfgang and me out hiking the property
Maryllis allowed me to audiotape our conversations as we hiked throughout the property. Although a good portion of the over 2000 acres of Big Papa’s property is still owned by family members, we covered a portion of the 120 acres that Maryllis and her husband Jim purchased. As we started our journey, she explained that unfortunately when they bought the land the buildings like the home, barns, kitchen house and others were beyond restoring for legacy purposes and they had to take them down. But she was kind enough to share photos that she’d taken before they took them down.
Post-processed image of picture Maryllis took of the Big Papa’s main house
Maryllis and I walked throughout the property and hiked behind their home into the wooded areas she felt would be most meaningful to me, taking time along the way to pause and show me a lot of things that were still there from Big Papa’s time and even before he owned the property.
She explained what they found as they built their home and surrounding areas for horses and cattle they maintained, much as Big Papa had done. The stories, the sounds, smells, and emotions that ran through me changed me in ways I can’t do justice to in this blog.
Untitled Nature & Landscape Shots – Big Papa’s Property (2015)
At one point she tells me we’ve reached the highest point on the property, where she’s always felt if my ancestors’ spirits congregated at a central point on the property, this would be where they’d gather.
I looked around, took in the beauty, silence, warm feelings, resilience and majesty of the surroundings and couldn’t have agreed more. I can’t wait to return and spend more time there, just in that spot….
“The Gathering Place” (2015)
The further we explored and the more photos I took, the more I felt the spirit of Big Papa and began to understand his love for and connection to the land he called home and the surrounding property he passed down to his family.
His legacy was in the flowers that still bloomed that he had planted, trees that still stood tall, weathering thunder strikes and time as a testament to his strength, wisdom and resilience.
“Weathering the Storm” (2015)
As we returned to her house, she paused and pointed to and old, beautifully rusted hoop that still dangled from one of the trees just behind the house that we feel certain Big Papa had attached for his grandchildren’s enjoyment.
“Playtime at Big Papa’s” (2015)
One of the highlights of the day was when Maryllis reached down out in the woods and unearthed a weathered, porous, and moss-covered piece of brick that she said was probably one of the few remaining pieces of Big Papa’s homesite buildings. She let me keep it and I’ve since had it planted in a potted arrangement that sits on my desk at work, catching the morning sunlight as the moss and plants thrive around it, the way our family thrived around Big Papa’s foundation of love, wisdom and legacy.
Thank you for bringing Big Papa more fully into my heart, Maryllis.
Till Next Time,