Friday, January 15, 2010

Old Family Photographs...Dad's Family

I have always loved the look of old, black and white photos. They bring to life one's history, one's ancestry, and make you think of days gone by. They make you want to learn more about he people in them.

See this picture?

Well, until several years ago, I never knew it existed, but it is a family portrait of my Dad, his parents and three sisters. It was taken in 1929.

Dad is the little boy in the lower right (I had to say that, because some people mistake this shot of my Aunt Dottie as a little boy! Oddly enough, she was quite a beautiful girl her whole life.) Anyway, the girl in the upper right is my dear Aunt Lorraine. She was well-loved by everyone, including me, and was sort of the family historian, keeping all the old family photos, letters, papers and trinkets safely tucked away.

Sadly, Lorraine was diagnosed with lung cancer in the late 1970's, and passed away in the summer of 1981. I "met" my cousin, Shirley, at her funeral. I'm sure I had met her before, but this was the first time I remember meeting her, and I was quite taken with her. She was very sweet, kind and pretty, and she also provided me with something I had not had before and that was a new perspective into my ancestry. You see, Shirley and I shared the same grandparents, but she had been blessed to have actually known them, while I only had a faded photo or two of my grandfather, George. There were none of my grandmother. I'm sure Lorraine had some, but for some reason, when she was alive, we never sat around and went through those old boxes. I think she was more interested in talking about what we kids were doing now, as opposed to what things were like back in the day.

A year after Lorraine's funeral, we went to a family gathering at another cousin's house. While I very often got to see my mom's side of the family, we only saw Dad's family once in a while because they all lived just a little too far away, and were kind of scattered about. There, by the pool, as everyone told stories and got caught up on the goings on in each other's lives, a bit of family drama erupted. Someone brought up Lorraine's husband's name and Aunt Dottie reacted as if she had been bitten by a snake.

"I hope he rots in hell!!!"

Wow. This shocked me, because Dottie was sweet and fun, "young" for an aunt. I had never heard her speak this way about anyone! But come to find out, the problem was this: After several months, Lorraine's husband met someone. They eventually married, but that was years later. No one really minded about that, for he had been loyal and faithful to Lorraine until the very end, and devastated by her loss. The kicker was, when this new lady came into his life, he decided he no longer wanted the boxes that Lorraine had accumulated over the years, and instead of calling one of her sisters, he simply hauled them to the dump.

"All those photographs, gone!" Dottie cried. "Either burned or rotting in the bottom of the town dump! I'll never see my mother's face again"

With that, I kind of shared her anger towards the uncle I had once loved. I realized that now I would probably never see what my grandmother looked like. Lorraine was the only one who ever thought to collect those old photos.

But thanks to my great aunt Myrtle, I was wrong!

Meet my Grandma, Ruth....

There's not much I know about her personally. Through dabbling in genealogy, I know a lot of names of her relatives and ancestors and where they lived and where they are buried. I know she made hot cross buns at Easter, named my father after her favorite actor (who shared the same name as a brother of hers who died as a child), that she loved to have her family around her, loved to cook (well, duh!) loved baseball and the Red Sox, suffered the loss of one baby, but raised four others, and she collected things. LOTS of thing! When my mother met my father, the family still lived at the old homestead, a giant saltbox on acres of land where they had apple orchards and raised chickens. And every spare inch of shelving and windowsill was adorned with knick knacks.

One day, out of the blue, a letter arrived from my Dad's Aunt Myrtle. Again, I know I have met her, but I really don't remember her. Anyway, she was probably in her late 80's at the time, but spry as a spring chicken nonetheless. The letter had me rolling on the floor - she asked how we were, wondered if we could get together for a visit as she was cooped up and bored, then went on to say "I don't know why people are so afraid of people with AIDS, but if I was still young enough to fool around with strangers, you better believe I'd get myself some condoms!"

Love, Myrtle

I was so disappointed that I could not go (and believe me, I was SOOOOO curious about this out-of-the-blue, eccentric relative!), but my parents surely did pay her a visit. Oh, the stories they told. This woman was QUITE a character!!! But the best part of all was what she sent them home with - a cigar box, filled with old photographs, including the family portrait, the above photo of my grandmother as well as another of Grandmother Ruth...

Best of all, on the back of this photo was, in Myrtle's handwriting, "this is the one I want to have done. You know just the head. It's not very recent but its the best one I can find. She hated to have her picture taken."

Ah! I learned something else about my grandmother! Every little bit is precious.

Here's another portrait done a few years later of the two older girls, Bev and Lorraine...

"To Gram, with Love"

And here's "Gram", my grandfather's mother, Delia on the left... Dad in the middle, and his other grandfather (Ruth's father, Grant) on the right.

This one is Dad and his parents, taken the same day as the one above...

"She was so mad at me for goofing around! She could be so serious."

Grandma Ruth had reason to be somber. These photos were taken, I believe, the day before Dad shipped off to boot camp in 1943. He had enlisted on his 19th birthday and within a couple months would be in North Africa, and later India, China and Burma. I can only imagine what was going through this woman's mind, wondering if this would be the last time she saw her only son alive.

She probably didn't like the fact that my Dad was a born comedian, always smiling, always a twinkle in his eye.

I bet he got in trouble for wearing his hat tilted off to one side like that!

Well, we can't forget Grandpa George! He had also enlisted in the Army years earlier, but never made it out of Fort Devens in Massachusetts - World War I came to an end just as he finished basic training. I know he was proud of his son to choose to serve his country. But from what I hear about my grandfather, he was rough and gruff and prone to curse...a lot. For a while I was kind of glad I didn't get the chance to know him (or his temper), for fear he would *gulp* yell at me.

But then came this photo...
"Shirley and Gramp. Isn't she a darling? She is never much farther away from Grampa when he is home"

Yeah, he seems like a nice enough guy!

I don't know why, but I love this one...Grandfather George standing at the edge of a lake in New Hampshire near the family "camp"...
I always wonder what he was thinking at that moment. Let's read the inscription for some clues, shall we?

So either he was looking for deer and bear tracks, OR he was wondering where the heck Al was with the beer!

Here he is again.

And finally, the kids - Dottie, Dad, Bev and Lorraine, this one from the late 40's.

I love this one, too. They just seem so happy, like they're smiling not because someone is taking a picture, but because they want to smile. It captures the spirit of family, the era of post-war America, when life was getting back to normal and good times were ahead, and the Great Depression was just a shadow of a memory. I'm proud to own this picture and to have known these four people, even if I did miss out on meeting their parents.

And I wonder if my daughter, years down the road, will browse through boxes of photos from my childhood, and be just as proud of her mom as I am of my Dad.

Yeah.....maybe not!


5thsister said...

I absolutely LOVE this post. One of my favorite photographs is one when my dad was a boy about 11 years old. Very same type photo as your 1st one. I love it because it has my grandma Olga in it who died shortly after. I am so amazed at all the resemblance to her that runs in our family (my daughter, sister and niece). I hope you don't mind but I may have to borrow this topic. It's a good one and I enjoyed hearing the history of your family.

ChristineM said...

Thanks 5th! Of course, I would love to read about your family! I actually started thinking about this after reading Tattoo's & Teething Rings post about names - there was a lot of "naming after so-and-so" in my dad's family!

Chicago Mom said...

Thank you so much for sharing your family photos and history! Isn't it fun to discover old photos and learn your family history?
When my paternal grandmother died we found 3 shoeboxes full of old photos, and it was sad that she had not shared them with us sooner. Luckily, most of them had writing on the back saying who was in the photo and my dad remembered a lot too. But in going through the photos I learned that I had a great-aunt and cousins - in Australia!

L.B. said...

Fantastic post. I am envious of you and your family photos from years gone by. My own family history intrigues me quite a bit but I'll never come close to knowing anything you know about your family, let alone possessing things as priceless as old family pictures. To think some of those pictures are 80 years old... insane. These will be priceless treasures for Grace. Thanks for sharing!

Tattoos and Teething Rings said...

Love it! We're fortunate to have lots of old photos of my mom's family, but I only have one or two of my dad's.