15 March 2013

Capturing the past

I love poring through old family photographs. Seeing parents when they were people and not just mommy and daddy.  Looking back at various family homesteads and noticing how they might have changed since then.  Devouring photographs of homes, amusement parks and schools that are no longer standing and wishing I'd been able to see them in person.  Studying how people dressed, or how their hair was arranged.  Noticing the things they were doing in the photographs.   

Feeding chickens.  
Playing with the family dog.  
Sitting happily on the seat of a giant triycycle. 
Leaning proudly against the family car.  (Posing with new cars was a big one in my family.)  
Gripping a tennis racket with both hands and holding threateningly over a sibling's head... all in good fun, of course.
Standing by an enormous tree uprooted by a hurricane

For some reason in many of the photographs of my maternal grandmother she's always sitting on a wall. Not the same wall, but various walls. And in the wedding photograph of my paternal grandmother she is holding a bouquet of roses that would take several small boys to carry down a church aisle.  In my parents' wedding photograph they are grinning madly at the camera on the day they eloped.  Their honeymoon photographs are equally charming, especially the one of my mother astride an enormous elephant at the Ringling Brothers Circus, her mouth open in what I imagine was a girlish scream. How my father talked her into doing such a thing is clearly a testament to her love.  (That, and agreeing to elope in the first place.)

There is a wonderful glass negative of my great uncle, who was a self-proclaimed Balladist in his youth, an image that would have been used to advertise his talents in pamphlets or newspapers.  In later years he rose to the position of head waiter at the famous Bel Air Hotel in Beverly Hills.  (And not just the head waiter but a singing waiter.) Oh, the tales he could tell of celebrities and their antics.

I treasure the photograph of my bachelor father, wearing his Coast Guard uniform and standing on the streets of Boston surrounded by at least 30 young women on the day the war ended. The newspaper caption under his picture said "Sailor, beware!" but I'm sure he wasn't worried in the least.  After all, he'd just come through Operation Torch off the coast of North Africa. (Here's looking at you, kid.)

At about that same time, my single mother was visiting Nantucket with a high school friend. She smiles out from one of their photographs, balanced precariously on the back of a tandem bicycle. Throughout that day's escapades her friend steered and kept them upright, my mother never having learned to ride. (A secret she was unsuccessful at keeping.

But perhaps one of my favorite photographs is of my maternal great-grandmother. She is wearing an ankle-length striped skirt, a wide sash, and a blouse with leg-o'-mutton sleeves.  One hand is pressed modestly at her midriff and her hair is piled in a soft upsweep on her head, which is tilted slightly as she looks into the camera. There is writing on the back that simply says: "Liked to hug people."


  1. I love to read about old photographs. Love the one you show here. I know what you mean about sitting on walls or steps. We have those too. Thank you for visiting me. Wishing you a happy Saturday.

  2. I'm with you here. I love old photos. There aren't enough of them in my family. Maybe that's why I love everybody else's too! Golly. Hope you get spring soon!

  3. I love this photograph, too, Patty. They look so carefree! And Jacqueline, despite having many family photos, I do love thumbing through boxes of random images of "strangers" in antique shops, wondering who they might have been. Wishing you both a happy day, and yes! I hope that Spring arrives in N.E. soon.