Trip to Grandma’s


I envision a ~5m video showing a trip with my family (wife and two children, 4 and 2) back east over Christmas break.  Along the way I learned some of my family history and came to terms with some of the Big Questions of my own life.  Autobiographical in nature.  Likely a series of stills with narration overtop with some music.

Story Map

The Beginning: Pre-trip Colin and Grandmom Osterhout

I’ve always held a special place in my heart for my Grandmom Mabel and Granddad Hank, having lived with them in their house in Brookneal, VA on several occasions before and during my college years.  

Thinking back I remember mostly a bunch of little things that I had done with them, such as:

  • Helping Granddad turn a wrench on his old engine
  • Sharing a beer with Grandmom at Pizza Hut
  • Learning how to play golf, poorly
  • Helping with the yardwork

Sketchcast shots

  • me alongside my Granddad Hank while rebuilding the engine to his truck
  • helping Grandmom Mabel with the yardwork
  • taking trips in their camper, enjoying many walks.
  • going to the store with Grandma
  • sharing a beer at Pizza Hut

When Hank died of cancer midway through my college years I initially felt a deep sense of loss.  There was a moment at the funeral when I stood up at the podium to speak about my grandfather, looking around at all the people in attendance, filling the pews, the vast majority of whom I had never met before.  I thought about how our lives connect with so many people and about the hole that is left in our absence.

Pictures of Brookneal.

Depictions of the funeral, and of a large crowd of people that I don’t know - up to that point in speaking to the people at the memorial I had no idea of the cross-section of folks that Hank had helped in the community.

Fast forward through my adult life.  I graduated college, held various desk jobs, growing larger, and smaller, and ending back up in Virginia thinking “Now What?”   I ended up moving to Alaska, meeting my wife, having our first child, and then another.  In all of this busy-ness I lost track of my family.


show time lapse sketch of Colin adding / losing weight, physical translation about the country,finding a partner in my wife, finding a house, little kids, etc.  

I heard Grandma Mabel’s memory was getting worse.  Imagine what it would be like to lose the memory of your loved ones.  What would it be like?  Do they just fade out one by one?  Does she still remember who I was?

Use Sketchcast here to depict things being dropped from memory.

After talking it over my wife, we decided it was time for our children to meet their great-Grandmom this Christmas trip.

To make things interesting, we decided to mix in as much train travel as we could between the various cities where my family members live.  It’s something that we’ve always wanted to do and since Liam’s been really into trains recently it seemed like a good way to mix in some family time.

Quick shot of airplane graphic, etc., showing trip from Juneau, to Seattle, landing in DC.

Train shots, DC - OH, OH-DC.  

When we finally made it to Ohio, I spent quite a bit of time talking with my father about Grandma.  It struck me how little I know about the members of my family, really.  

Show pictures of my father and mother.

I have often felt disconnected from my family’s past, that their stories did not directly affect my own.

But as I sat side by side with my father with Liam in my lap on the cold train platform at 3am talking about how freight trains work I had a moment of clarity, where I could glimpse the similarities between us.

Pictures of train station with dad and Liam, shots from the train: OH-DC.  Callout box above my dad showing his excitement at seeing trains, showing youthful exuberance.

After a  visit to my brother Dave’s house we again boarded the train, this time bound for Norfolk, to stay with my Uncles John and Ron.  I’m proud to say that their work as teachers had a big influence on my decision to head back to school.

Shot of map, arrow pointing at Norfolk.  

It was through Uncle John that I discovered more of my Granddad Osterhout’s role as educator in the community.   Due to his close proximity, John’s been fortunate to be able to see my Grandmother almost every day.

Picture of Brookneal, overlays of some of the surrounding area, tobacco farms, closed up textile mills (if possible).  Shot of the High School where he student taught.  Leaving out the part about mentoring GED and literacy students - hard to depict.

Before turning in I spent the first night talking with John and learning more about Mabel’s transition into assisted living.  I learned more about how difficult that transition had been for her and indeed for all of her children - a change like this touches on everyone and everything.

John let me know what her days were like, how she was cared for, how often family visited, and this gave me a sense of reassurance that all that could be done was being done.

[EDIT] Here I was going to go into some of the nitty gritty of what can happen during the transition to assisted living but it just seems a very hard topic to cover in a small amount of time, so I instead portrayed the positive light of how my family was and is there for her.

The next morning John and I drove over to pick her up from the assisted living home and brought her back to the house.

When talking with her during the short car ride I realized that the memory loss had indeed progressed pretty far.  She didn’t remember that my Uncle didn’t have any children, nor the name of my Uncle’s partner.  I still don’t know if she really remembered who I was or not.

I tried not to dwell on it.  Instead, I talked to her about stories she remembered.  Snippets of memory about raising her children, thoughts about Hank, that sort of thing.

Show slide of car, again show the slide of  memory loss.

A funny thing happened though; when it actually came time to introduce her to my little ones, none of my worries mattered nearly as much as I thought it would; I was simply happy to once more be in the moment.  I felt a renewed sense of pride in my family; and with that a sense of duty to pass on the memories I created years ago with Hank and Mabel on to my own little ones.

Picture of my kids during the trip.

The last night in Norfolk I had a chance to go through a large collection of my Grandmother’s artwork that she had created while about my age. Maybe it was the late hour, or the wine, but I discovered in her work a side of her that I hadn’t known existed: I like to imagine that she was asking the same questions then as I am now, and probably getting the same answers.

Show a couple examples of Grandma’s artwork.

In the end, I realized that it doesn’t do a whole lot of good worrying about all of the what-if’s that life throws at you.  Ever since then I actively try and realize those moments when everything just comes together and I feel at peace.

Again with more pictures of my family, that’s the real connection that I have with this piece, learning to stop and appreciate the moments I have to spend with my loved ones.

All families are their own special brand of crazy.  All that really matters in the end is that it works and that we’re good to each other.  Celebrate the good stuff while you can.  Carpe Diem.

Final shots of family, roll credits.