My heart was very heavy two springs ago. Losing my grandmother was not easy, but something that was inevitable. We had a special relationship and I will always value our times at her kitchen table over tea. She would tell me the most amazing stories about her life. But, I had a job to do that day and I need to get these feelings out of my head. I hoped that my emotions would not come through in my work and that I would be able to make a connection with the subject I was about to photograph. The woman I was about to meet was a friend’s grandmother who was having a big birthday-100. I just had no idea of what to expect. After losing my own grandmother, I did not want to fail the work I was to do capturing the grandmother of my friend Mujah.
The light was warm on my face, the flowers were vibrant in color and it began to lift my mood. A few of her family members were already there and they were welcoming. This was exactly what I needed. My nerves started to calm, I just needed to meet the matriarch. Then, there she was, walking softly alongside one of her daughters. She seemed kind and determined, quite remarkable for a woman of 99.
They placed her next to me in a chair, which I appreciated as I wanted to just talk to her at first. I am glad I did, as there was something about her. While I am not sure what it was, but she reminded me of my own grandmother. There was something in the way that she did not want to get overly doted on, then she murmured one of the funniest sarcastic remarks. I knew then that I liked this woman–a lot.
Afterwards, I felt quite good about my work. When I delivered it to Mujah, she felt the same. As we began to catch up on a few things, she told me about her current project. I heard something about it at the bar over coffee, that is was a film. When she shared the content, I was floored. It was about her grandmother and her experience in Japan. Only, this experience happened in the 1940s when she and her husband had three very little girls. Not only were they an Italian family, but a family who were not fascists. They would not break in their beliefs and, sadly, were placed in a camp. Yes, Mujah’s grandfather, grandmother and their three little girls were in a concentration camp in Japan during WWII. They were imprisoned for 2 years. Not to belittle anyone’s experience, but the gentleman in Angelina Jolie’s movie Unbroken, was in the camp for one year. I cannot fathom being there for two as a child or as parents caring for your children. As I sat there wide-eyed I said, “After living through that, of course your grandmother is turning 100, the horrors of war could not even break her.”
This history enthusiast is looking forward to learning more about Mujah’s movie and the pillar of strength and her spirit that is her grandmother, Topazia Alliata.