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Thursday, December 21, 2017

When Photos Tell a Story

Michael George Roberson
Sept. 20, 1945-March 5, 2017

I feel like every year I buy my husband the same old gifts. Clothes, shoes (because he never, ever buys those things for himself!) something technology related, science-fiction DVDS, and fitness gadgets or accessories. This year, I happened to be at home alone one day when an image popped in my head. It was photo I had seen of my father-in-law that ran in a trade magazine a few years ago. In this photo, Mike has a grin on his face despite the oil staining his forearms and his t-shirt and jeans. Those jeans were well-worn but usually at least three sizes too big, because he never took the time to sit down and eat while he was working. Knowing my father-in-law, he was probably in the middle of singing one of his favorite country songs (or one he had written himself) and telling a story. The man loved to tell stories.

My father in law passed away this past March after a long battle with alcoholism. It was a tough time for all his family members, and especially his children and grandchildren. It had been many years since any of us had seen glimmers of the old Mike. The disease took a toll on his body, mind and relationships. But in the midst of that, he had starred in a video Levi Strauss made about denim, because he had worked for Cone Mills in Greensboro, N.C. his entire life, making sure the looms ran smoothly. His face and story appeared in several trade magazines and we couldn’t believe it when we saw the video, featuring him singing one of his own original songs.

You see, Mike loved to share his songs with people. He was a self-taught musician and favored the guitar. He always had dreams of selling a song to someone famous and making it “big.” But in reality, the music took a backseat as he married, raised a family, and provided for his kids. It never stopped of him from playing and dreaming, though. He loved the fact that I was a writer and bragged to everyone he knew about my accomplishments, probably because he understood the difficulty of trying to remain creative in today’s fast-paced world where there is never enough money to pay all the bills. A few months ago, the Cone Denim White Oak plant announced it would cease operations at the end of this year. While it is sad because it is the last selvedge denim mill standing in the United States, his family agrees that it doesn’t seem right for it to remain open without Mike.

So on that day at home, when the image came to me of him standing in front of that loom, I knew I had to get a hold of that print and get a copy of it to frame for my husband. I could hear his voice saying to me, “That’s right, girl. He will love that!” During my search, I also found another shot of him that was taken for a magazine. I am framing copies of both for my husband and mother-in-law, and thank Mike for giving me the idea.

Photos courtesy of Port Magazine

Mike was never in enough photos. He couldn’t sit still and could always be found in his garage, playing and recording his music. His music lives on, as do the memories. I’m thankful my kids inherited their musical talent from his side of the family.

Look through your own family photos. Do you have any pictures that could inspire an essay, short story or novel? Share your own memories in the comments section!

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who lives in Davidson, N.C. Visit her website at


  1. Renee--What an incredible gift. Will it be a total surprise? I hope so.

    Your father-in-law sounded like a real character. Those photos will prod everyone into telling more stories about his stories... which will help keep him alive in your hearts.

    Merry Christmas.

  2. I was thinking the same thing as Sioux...isn't it exciting when we think of great gifts? :)

  3. Thanks, Margo and Sioux! These photos are being kept under wraps (and neither party knows about this post)! I do hope that the presence of these photos will bring him back to us on Christmas Day, even if only through the memories.

  4. What an amazing story, Renee. Mike sounds like a character and a wonderful person. He definitely stood out for the peeps at Levi to put him in their video! What a fantastic gift and a treasure. My husband and I were hired to make a video and catalog for Levi's shoe line around ten years ago. The Levi execs were great.

    Your post makes me think of some of the photos I'd like to frame. I went to Gallery1988 in Hollywood and bought my husband five signed prints and framed them for Christmas. Can you believe how expensive framing is now? Aaron Brothers quoted me over a grand, so I framed them myself. :)

    Merry Christmas!


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