Ollie Hairston (2009)

  • Ollie Hairston, a college-educated single mother, raised two successful and fiercely independent daughters. My mother moved out of the midwest at 18 and organized an existence in DC with my father, whose kinfolk–the Wards–would sooner vacation on the Moon than move far outside the Beltway.
    I never really knew Grandma Ollie like I knew my Dad’s parents, but the one aspect of her character which remained a key ingredient of my recollections of our time together, was her impatience. She was not one to derive enjoyment from reveling in the details of a journey to a given destination—just the facts.
    Artists get wrapped up in such minutiae, and when I was shooting this essay, I was very much interested in the objects around which she, and other patients, used to fabricate the feeling of hominess. As I wrote originally in 2010: “Having been raised in a time and culture where identity is largely defined by what one owns, it intrigues me how the wares of the assisted elderly become distilled.

    “Stripped, sometimes willingly, of all the control over the course of the remainder of their lives, they collect the bare essentials of what it takes to make someplace they can call home.”