Jacquelyn Rivers has spent her whole life photographing flowers. Now, they've become symbols for those she loves the most.
Hydrangeas, daffodils, wildflowers, daisies and roses.
Ormond Beach resident Jacquelyn Rivers has photographed them all. When she was 5 years old, her grandfather sat her down at the kitchen table with milk and cookies and showed off his new Minolta 35 millimeter camera. Afterward, he took her to his garden, and began to take photos of his flowers.
Rivers recalls grabbing her own toy camera and mimicking him. She copied his stance, his poses and the way he held his camera. Her grandfather knew she was there.
"Let's see what you can really do," he told her.
Photography then became an activity they did together. They kept notebooks detailing information on lighting, shading, time of day, and photo subjects.
The years passed, and Rivers never stopped taking photos of flowers. Over time, as she hit bumps along the road, flowers began reminding her of the important people in her life. It's why she's dedicated her first solo photography show at The Casements to four special women in her life: her mother Barbara Ann Brennan Rivers, her former mother-in-law Kathy James, her best friend's mother Aimee Roth and her stepmom Beatrice Aglione.
“Life is just colorful for them, to the moment they passed," Rivers said. "Like flowers.”
Rivers, who works in Ormond Beach Elementary as a dining room aid and an extended day group leader, talks about these women with a smile on her lips and tears in her eyes. Her left bicep is home to a tattoo tribute to the two women she's lost. Her mother died from emphysema in 2009, after fighting the disease for 22 years. She had only been given about 6 years to live when first diagnosed. Rivers also lost James last year to brain cancer.
Her mother made her who she is today, Rivers said. An amateur writer and photographer herself, Rivers' mom encouraged her to pursue her heart's desire. Rivers had a slight stutter and dyslexia growing up, and said her mom never let that stop her. She nicknamed Rivers "sunny rose," after her two favorite things.
When Rivers was 7 years old, she told her she was like a flower seed.
"Tiny, but powerful, able to endure and overcome hardships, like the seed does to push through the soil," Rivers recalls. "With a little love, sunshine and even some rainy days, I would bloom into something beautiful, breathtaking and one of a kind. Some dreams and goals might take a little longer than others to achieve, but all will blossom with brilliance in the end."
Two months before her mother died, she was able to see Rivers exhibit a single photograph in her first show.
“She would’ve been really proud to see all of my work, and she would’ve been the first one in the door," Rivers said.
Her mom's favorite flower were hydrangeas, and Rivers likens her to a butterfly, and the way they tend to those blooms. It's like how her mother tended to her, she said. In honor of her memory, Rivers will be writing her future books under her mother's name, Brennan.
Rivers only knew James for three years while she dated and later became engaged to James' son. But that short period was enough to restore her faith in humanity, Rivers said. She had been going through tough times, and James reminded her to love life to the fullest. She treated her like a daughter until the day she died.
“It didn’t matter if you were blood or not, you walked in the door and you were a part of the family," Rivers said.
They don't make women like that no more, she added. It's why wildflowers remind her of James. She was joy.
Rivers has been friends with Roth's daughter for 20 years. Roth became like a second mom to her, hanging up the "it's a boy" signs when her sons Hunter and Joseph came along, and later the "it's a girl" sign when her only daughter Rozeanna was born.
She can always talk to Roth, Rivers said. When her mother died, Roth was there for her.
They still speak almost every other night, she said. She thinks of Roth as being like a daisy. The tiniest gestures on Roth's part have made a difference in Rivers life, she said.
“She’s fierce," Rivers said. "She’s loyal. She’s an awesome person — that’s where the nickname Mama Bear came from.”
Rivers' father has since remarried since her mother died. Aglione is a lot like her mom, Rivers said. She said Aglione is a daffodil; elegant and beautiful.
Her mom and grandfather once told Roth that if she could photograph a flower, she could photograph anything.
“You’re taking God’s glory and his work, and sharing it with everybody because a lot of people don’t stop to look at flowers, and they should, because flowers are a lot like people,” said Rivers through tears. “A lot like my mom. A lot like these ladies.”