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Sarah Gornall

Saint Wilfrid’s Church of England Academy, Blackburn

It’s funny, really, the perspective that death puts on things. The way it makes you look and re-evaluate everything, from possessions to opinions. I suppose it’s the only way to really get to know a person. There’ll always be secrets; I don’t care how ‘perfectly honest’ you think a person is. No one knows anyone as fully as they think they do.

I was digging through a box of old photos when I first noticed. There were photos of everyone, from Auntie Jo who lived in Austria to my cousin in South America. Not a single photo, however, existed of Grandpa Jonathan from after he was about fifteen. There were baby photos, a passport photo, but none in a casual, normal situation. He wasn’t in the family portraits. He didn’t even have photos at his wedding, apart from an official one that I guess a photographer wrestled him into. At christenings, he didn’t appear. That’s when I realised. He was always behind the camera.

I’m not sure why nobody called him in. I can’t remember anyone protesting. I’m sure they must have tried to persuade him at first... then accepted it as normal maybe? It’s just strange.

Every holiday, he was there. I can remember him being mad for Christmas, bringing in a massive bin bag full of presents for everyone – we’d all be watching him pull box after box after box from it, each one lovingly wrapped by hand. The camera flashed as we opened presents, documenting the joy on our faces as we saw exactly what we wanted appear under the wrapping paper. Photos that he took. Oh, everyone thanked him profusely, but there’s no photo of him dragging that sack behind him. Nobody laughingly using it as the next year’s Christmas card like we did when Uncle James took to showing up in a fur coat.

I have so many questions. Who manages to avoid a camera for sixty years? I wish I could ask. I would love to rediscover how he looked, spoke, sounded before he went. At eight, I questioned nothing. And now, I haven’t even a photograph and I’ll never know why.