For my birthday this year, I was gifted with one of the most unique gifts I’ve ever received (my sister Monica, always crushing gifts 🎉), a class by the timeless and incredibly talented photographers – Annie Leibovitz. One of my assignments was to photograph an elder person in my life. To capture their story, their history, their emotion. I knew immediately who I wanted to spend an afternoon with: my dear Grandfather, Tony LoBianco.
I walked into his house and was immediately hit with the sweet smell of aftershave and the light serenading of jazz (his favorite). When I entered through the garage, I was greeted with a sign my brother and I made for him easily 20 some years ago when he retired as well as the poster “Grandpa, Our Hero” that I held up proudly when we welcomed him back from his Honor Flight two years ago.
We sat down in his living room and got started. “So what are we doing here, dear?” I explained that I wanted to take his picture, to ask him questions, to hear his stories. He mentioned he felt like a celebrity and dove right in. My Grandfather has always been a reserved man, gentle and quiet, but when he speaks, you listen.
We talked about his years as a Chicago police officer and how he spent his first two “whistle blowing” (directing traffic) at the corner of Lakeshore Drive and 18th street. His most prized posession – the pinky ring my Grandmother made for him (from her Mother’s engagement ring) for their anniversary. His experience as an 18 year old during the war, stationed at Iwo Jima. His memory is as sharp as a tack, recalling names and years, and memories – like his commanding office Bo Burns who told them “you better get off this damn beach if you don’t want to get killed!” Sometimes, I think he has a better memory than me.
We talked about two of his greatest loves, my Grandmother (who he reminded me with a gentle elbow “was a cougar you know” – a phrase I taught her years ago that she just loved), and playing in a jazz band at the University of Illinois (my almta matter as well!) and in Guam when he was still in the military. His stories were limitless and his smiles abundant. I wish there was a way to describe his genuine chuckle that fills the room.
He pulled out an old thank you card from me he keeps on his desk, and opened up his bureau to show me he still had 3 mini champagne bottles from my wedding. I also spotted our wedding program and the “love” bottle opener from his table he took with him and kept. My heart just melted.
I think it’s important to get the history, to take the time to hear the stories and memories from those that are such a big part of your life. If not now, when will you? I will treasure this afternoon for the rest of my life, and now I have these photos, stories of my date with my Grandfather on a Friday afternoon, to hold on to for forever.
My Grandfather left the war without a scratch on him, “I’m a very lucky man“, he said to me, and all I could think was, me too.