A Letter to Grandma

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Phyllis Freeman Gustafson was my Grandmother.
She was also known as Bubbie, Mom, Auntie Pessie, and a dear friend to a lot of people.
To me, she was Cape Cod.

One of the first times that I met her was after my first airplane flight at the age of 5.  My Mom and I just moved from the West Coast to as far as you could go on the East Coast, Dennisport Massachusetts. The memories are flooding back.

We were surrounded by water on the peninsula turned isthmus, known simply as the Cape. And it was the water, the sea, the warmer Atlantic Ocean that fueled my Grandmother.  We practically lived at the beach during the summer, collecting silver dollars, shells and hunting for hermit and horseshoe crabs. The Cape’s high and low tides push and reveal the underbelly of the Sea. During low tides Grandma would lead us as we would walk or float out to the distant sandbars. And there we would rest, in the middle of this temporary island, with the shore now in distance along the horizon line.

Our visits out to these sandbars were never too long, the tides quickly changed their minds and reclaimed the land they revealed.
Thinking about this now, it is easy to make allusions to sandbars and the style of photography that I love.  Long Exposure Photography reveals the unseen time:  the seconds, minutes and hours that can evolve in a single exposure.  Star trails, moving water, and time can not be seen with the naked eye but it can be captured with a camera.  However, each capture, each picture, is a one of a kind.

I took 8 shots of the lower left image. I varied the exposure between 4 and 8 seconds, and each time the water and sky moved differently, thus creating a unique photograph every time.

Grandma Gus was a high energy woman, to say the least.  She spoke her mind, whenever, wherever, and pushed you to be. That push frustrated a lot of her family and friends at times but probably because we didn’t know what or who we wanted “to be” yet.  Once we had an idea, she fueled it ~ bringing us to museums, sending books, or taking us on inspirational trips.

When I graduated college, majoring in Theater, she got me a camera. We all know the road that has led me down.
And when I moved from the East back to the West and was going through some tough times, she flew out to see me. She saw that I did not want or know how to process what I was going through,  So she took me to the Ocean to see the unseen. It was the first time that Grandma Gus touched the Pacific Ocean. Walking through the water at Ocean Beach in San Francisco is not a popular thing to do, the water is constantly cold, no swimming out to sandbars here! But Grandma took off her shoes and didn’t think twice.
I had the camera in my hand and took one shot, the one you see above.

I love you Grandma, you were always there for us, even when we didn’t think we needed it.
I’ll miss you dearly but will carry your spirit as it continues to push me along..

I invite anyone who knew Phyllis Freeman Gustafson to share a story on this blog. In this little way we can keep a record of her life and inspirations. If you would like a free copy of the 8×10 photograph of Phyllis walking along the Pacific please contact me.

4 thoughts on “A Letter to Grandma

  1. This just brought tears to my eyes…I love you Gabe, and I love Grandma. I will miss having her to always be the push we may not think we needed. She taught me a lot and I am thankful for it all!

  2. Gabe,
    What a beautiful letter. You captured her spirit. Ma will be missed by all.

  3. Much love to you all.

  4. this does express the essence of ma and her love for all around her including family, friends, beauty created by others in museums, ballet, symphony, and the ocean. Ma lived her life with a passion and everyone felt her pull to live their life with the same passion. yes sometimes we rejected that pull but mostly we embraced it because ma LOVED you and all that YOU represented. Thanks Gabe for your wonderful letter and being in all of our lives. Your picture of the West Dennis beach is awesome… lots of love and cherish the memories she gave… mom

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