Friday, November 5, 2010

Reaching back...

After a recent visit with my Mom, I found myself in possession of another bag of her old photos. She's pleased to know that I am able to scan them digitally and therefor save them for posterity. There are all sorts of styles and many generations of pictures in every stage of deterioration meaning I must necessarily take it slow and careful...not my strong suit! So as I sit waiting for the scanner to 'read' each photo I find myself with time to sit and study the images waiting their turn to jump into the digital world. A funny thing is beginning to happen to me....what with all the genealogy research of late and now these piles of photographs of those people who's names I've been researching's a hard thing to articulate but it's growing in strength. I'm beginning to feel like I've known these people who've died a long time before my birth!!! Not just 'know about them' but really feel an emotional connection similar to that I feel for my husband and children. Tonight I 'met' my maternal grandmother who died 5 years before I was born.....

As best I can tell, this is the oldest picture I have of Grandma Margaret. There she sat in the back row of a group of her friends as they all enjoyed an apple a piece. One of the only ones who was not wearing an exaggeratedly huge hair bow...the one second from the right in checks. Born in 1895 and guessing her to be about 12 in this picture would mean this picture was taken around 1907!!! That alone puts me in a state of reverence when I hold this picture in my hand. I just see that tall forehead rising up over the serious looking face and feel acutely the salty flavor of discomfort that creeps up the throat of a near adolescent who desperately wishes she could just fit in with the group of girls wearing their quiet  fabric dresses and loud bows. The girl who was probably wearing the puffy sleeved, loud, checkered hand-me-down dress of one of her three older sisters. I take comfort in knowing that the girl in the center front became a life long friend who appears in another picture in this post!

Clearly the family was not destitute poor since we have this studio portrait of her confirmation! But they were not wealthy either. I know this from the many stories I've heard from my Grandaunts of their childhood. I look at those long sausage curls and I am transported to the night before this picture was taken. I can feel the tears trickling down the cheeks as the long, wet  hair is combed out and then rolled tight to the scalp with the last knot of the rag invariably pinching a hair or two. I can feel the discomfort of a bunch of rag knots digging into her head as she tried to sleep...sleep in a bed with two sisters who's curl free heads slept peacefully while she couldn't find a single comfortable position!

Here she is with her lifelong friend Mae! Now a 'thoroughly modern' woman with a job and enough money to buy yourself a beautiful, white lace gown and pin your hair up with a rhinestone hair clip  bringing a smile...sort of  to your face. In the movie Beaches there is a scene where the dying friend sits and cries over pictures in which she sees her mother's hands....grabbing my tissues now....because usually I would be focused on the faces but all I see here is her bare arm and the  back facing hand. I've seen this arm and hand before many times on my own Mom AND my sister Anne Marie!!! The rest of us turn our palms in towards our thighs but Mom and Anne Marie's palms face backward when they stand I know why!

 I just feel that this picture links me to my grandmother in a cosmic way! I never had the idyllic trip to the beach with my grandmother. She was already dead. But I look at this picture and see a happy and relaxed woman who has been kissed by the magic of the sun and waves. A woman who went to the beach with a v-neck bathing dress and bare arms in those pre-sunscreen days even though she had fragile Irish skin!! Oh dear Grandma Margaret, if you could only have known that seasonal affective disorder existed and that many trips to the beach would have cured the doldrums.

Luckily she felt compelled to sit for portraits...fairly regularly! I see a woman growing in confidence. A woman getting 'comfortable in her own skin'. I see a woman who didn't 'need' to get married...but obviously she did! Again I feel a bond. A bond to a woman who met her life's love later than her peers and who was well into her 30's when work gave way to parenting!

I chuckled as I studied this picture thinking of the number of times I had to 'hug Mari ' so we could get a family picture. That is my Mom squinting over her new little sister's head while Grandma Margaret 'hugs' her. What amazes me about this picture is the knowledge that it was taken in the height of the Depression! One could understand if they were drained and serious looking but clearly the new little family was focused on their blessings in this period of stress. It is with this picture that I also see clearly why my siblings and I are blessed with excessively tall foreheads...thanks for that George and Margaret!!!!

This one induces sadness. You would think the cute mother/daughter dresses would bring a smile? My Mom seems happy. My aunt and uncle were co-operating by sitting nicely if not outright happy. My grandfather seems as proud as he is happy. My grandmother looks serious and/or stressed. Just what could have happened this sunny day to rob her of her happiness? I just feel like I need to reach back and give her a encouraging word...a quick kiss on her cheek and assurance that because of her there are dozens of happy grandchildren and great-grandchildren living lives of great joy. Love you Grandma Margaret!


  1. oh this makes me cry. family is our lifeblood. how wonderful you have delved into the past to meet your family members whom you didn't get to meet in life. I must dig out my photos and do a post like this.

  2. those are really amazing pictures. You are so lucky to have them, and know a little about them as well.