The Toffee Man: Keeping Memories Strong
By virtue of the fact my father was 59 years old when I was born, I never knew my paternal grandparents or great-grandparents. I was a curious, probably somewhat precocious child, and I would pester my Dad for details of his family, and loved nothing more than drawing up our family tree with as many family members as he could remember.
Not only lists of names – Dad would regale us with stories of his childhood: how his mum would play the piano at parties, how he used to steal eggs to put in the larder when times were hard, and how he got left sleeping under the kitchen table during the air-raids because no-one could wake him up!
But my favourite stories were of his grandfather, James Henry Lowe.
Grandad Lowe was a great musician and owned a carnival store in Reading for many years, until the time came for him to sell up and he moved in with my Dad and his parents. He continued doing musical repairs and would walk to and from his work every day. On his way home, he would buy a bag of toffees, and he would give a sweet to every child he met on his way home. The local kids ran up and down the back alleys to try and get an extra sweet, but he soon wised-up to this and would say “you’ve already had one!”. Somehow he always had enough sweets in the bag for every child he met. He became known as the Toffee Man.
I’ve always felt quite close to Grandad Lowe, even though he died 43 years before I was born. As I got older I began to trace our family history and found out more about his side of the family, as well as my other grandparents’ family lines (like all family trees, we have our fair share of nuts and lemons as well!!). Today it’s something I dip in and out of as and when time permits – and even now I discover new ancestors as more historic records are digitized and made available online.
So it was just a few months ago that I found the newspaper containing Grandad Lowe’s obituary had been digitized. It was fascinating to read about his early life and learn things I didn’t know – “he was an early experimenter with cinematograph and toured the country giving shows which also included songs, elocution items and conjuring”.
And then I read the last paragraph which said that among the floral tributes there was “one subscribed for by the children of the district in which he lived, among whom he was a great favourite”.
That was it. I sobbed.
Even now, as I’m writing this, it chokes me up to think that Grandad Lowe was so well thought of that the children he gave sweets to would save up their hard-earned money – and it wasn’t a wealthy area – to offer such a tribute.
There is a quote that says a person dies three times. The first, when his body dies. The second, when everyone who knew him dies. And the third, when nobody remembers him, and he is forgotten.
But for the photos we have and the stories my Dad told us, Grandad Lowe would be no more than a name on a family tree. My Dad and his siblings have all passed now, so there is no-one left, at least on this side of the family, who remembers Grandad Lowe.
Yet because of the photos and the stories, he is real. While we don’t have actual memories of him, he is not forgotten and he remains a strong presence in our family history. Finding his obituary has added more flesh to his story and given me new leads to track down – you can bet I’m going to be contacting places like the Music Hall Society to see if I can find out more about his touring show!
So you may be forgiven for thinking: what’s this got to do with dog photography?
All this blog is about really is an old photo and a story told to a child. Yet the memories and emotions those two things evoke are so powerful that they bring tears to my eyes – over a man I never knew, who died almost eighty years ago.
That is the power of memory. The power of a single image to instantly transport you back to a moment in time, or a special place that you shared.
That is why I believe wholeheartedly that when you choose to create portraits of your beloved dog, that that experience should be as unique as you are, so that when you see your beautiful portraits you are instantly back in that moment creating those treasured memories that you want to keep strong and close forever.
It’s not only the images that are important – the photo we have of Grandad Lowe is a pretty average studio portrait of a chap in a suit – but it is the memories and stories behind the image that are the most powerful thing of all.
You don’t just want a portrait of any dog. You want to capture the unique character and adorable personality of your four-legged best friend, in bespoke artwork for you to cherish forever.