The Free Lance-Star Photography Department shares the stories behind the photos.

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Daily lessons

One of the things I enjoy most about my job is that it’s a continual learning experience. I’m not referring to the photographic or technical aspect of the job, which is pretty cool. Rather, it’s what I learn from some of the people I encounter on assignments that makes my job special.

In November I got a firsthand description of life in the Great Depression from Lois Barbour Rose who told me what it was like to be a child growing up on a North Carolina farm during that time." alt="" /> The Spotsylvania County resident described the horrible feeling she had when, at the age of five, she accidentally dropped one of her shoes down a dry well. She knew her parents couldn’t afford to buy a new pair. Her father fashioned a ladder from trees he had cut down and climbed to the bottom of the deep well to retrieve the shoe. Lois, feeling extreme anguish for putting her father in that situation, stood and cried as he disappeared from view. She also talked about the sweet potatoes her mother cooked for travelers who passed the farm on foot hoping to find something to eat. Lois said her family had no money but always had food thanks to the farm. It was a routine portrait assignment, but I left her apartment with a glimpse into the past, something I didn’t have prior to our meeting.

The things I learn are not always factual. I also learn a lot about human nature through the folks I meet on the job. Thornburg resident Nancy Brown, who is blind and deaf, showed me a positive attitude is key in perseverance. " alt="" title="Nancy" /> Despite her limitations, Nancy leads a very social and independent life. She finds pleasure in her friends and acquaintances who she talks to with a special phone designed for blind and deaf people. Her son Frank shuttles her to social outings where she dines with friends and communicates through tactile sign language. I remember her joyful smile whenever she came into contact with her friends and family members. She taught me to think twice when I start feeling like life is dealing me a bad hand.

I’ve learned an immense amount from the people I’ve encountered in my 17-year career. And much of the gratification that comes with the job is looking forward to what I’ll learn from the folks I meet on the next assignment.

Peter Cihelka