Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Stories in Pictures

I’ve been helping my step-mom with a project of preserving the multitude of old family photos she has contained in boxes by scanning them into my computer and then transferring them onto CD.

As I’ve made my way through each stack, I’ve found myself wanting to know more about these folks; especially the ones whom there are several pictures in various stages of their lives.

Here is Gertrude, for example, as a young girl standing with her sister Marie, and another sitting with her mother Eliza on the front porch of their house. There’s also one of her by herself, looking quite mischievous. Then there is a wedding picture where she’s maid of honor to Marie. Finally, the last one; a family picture taken many, many years later with her elderly and care-worn parents Dave and Eliza and her young niece of maybe seven or eight, my step-mom, Margot.

Margot’s told me some stories about Gertrude; first, she verified she was indeed a live-wire who had all sorts of interesting experiences, was a postmistress, and carried on several love affairs; including, apparently (as gleaned from a packet of letters discovered after Gertrude moved into a nursing home in the early 1980s) one with a priest. She never married or had children, so, other than Margot (and now me), there isn’t anyone left to care about the life of this feisty spinster.

Is this something Gertrude was ok with, not entering into to what was certainly then the more traditional and acceptable institute of marriage and motherhood? Yes, she had the look of a bold adventuress about her in some of those earlier photographs, but, what was she REALLY thinking about; wishing and hoping for?

Considering this, I’ve spent a bit of time scrutinizing the faces in these pictures and have been lost in the thought of how surreal it is that I can lay them out in chronological order and know what those faces did not know; what was going to happen (or not happen) to them before the next picture in line.

Margaret Louise, an aunt for whom my Margot was named, sits in what looks to be a field or garden, clutching a raggedy looking doll in her arms. Margaret Louise again several years older now perched in the rumble seat of a car with her older sisters Isabelle and Charlotte; sister Nel at the wheel. Margaret Louise on a picnic with her mother and father and others; all elegantly dressed in the clothes of the era, a well-provisioned hamper of food nearby, champagne glasses in their hand. Included in the series of pictures to be scanned; Margaret Louise’s obituary; dead suddenly at the age of 21 from rheumatic fever.

Two of Margot’s aunts; two different extremes. Of course, not everyone in the pictures in my care had either such a tragic ending or a wild ride. As is (hopefully) the case for the majority of us, most of them had a beginning, a third, a middle, a 2/3rds and an ending with some stand-out moments to be sure, but, mostly lives lived on the B-Side.

Although it is taking some time to work through the process of scanning, cropping, editing and labeling these pictures, it’s obviously nothing compared to what may exist in our current time where there may come to be thousands upon thousands of images of us capturing our every momentous (and not so) occasion, mood, year of our life, etc., These older pictures from the past are even more so precious because there are so very few of them. There might only be a handful to document a person’s years. And, if said person wasn’t terribly well off to afford a photographer’s session or a camera of their own, there would be even less. And the obvious; if someone lived in a time where photography wasn’t yet invented (or just barely), there would be only an odd rare picture. Case in point as to why we are so fascinated with the small collection of photographs of famous people such as Abraham Lincoln. We’ve all probably seen every single picture ever taken of that man!

These pictures have also offered visual evidence of how differently families lived one from another in a similar period of time. Meaning, the occupations they held, the homes they lived in, the clothes they wore, their possessions, their pastimes, their degree of education.

Yet, they all walked this Earth; all would have stories to tell or secrets they wished kept keep.

Margot, an avid genealogist, has often said “Those who are remembered will never die”. I’m more than pleased to have been offered this opportunity to be included with those who will always remember.

Mrs. B

No comments: