For the past few hours I have been staring at a copy of an old picture my brother posted on social media last night. The picture looks to be taken around 1910 or 1912. It is a group of people, clearly related to each other. The people in the photograph appear to range in age from very young children to adults in their seventies. It is taken in front of a little wooden church.
I find this picture to be fascinating. It is a picture of my people. These are my ancestors. Each face different, but alike in certain features. I can see resemblance in their deep set piercing eyes and the dark coloring of their hair. I look closer. Do I see a certain shyness? Aloofness?
The tall man on the back row, far left, is my great grandfather. Looking only at the males, I notice the strongness. I see salt of the earth. I see hard workers. I see sternness. Only one little boy is smiling ,looking quite mischievous. All the others have that same solid look. A few have eyes that are quite mesmerizing. I look at their clothing. Even the littlest boy is carrying his hat in his hand like a badge of adulthood. He feels like he’s just like his daddy or grandpa perhaps, sporting a grown up hat. Some of the older boys have suits. While all are fine looking boys, I can’t help to be drawn to the fourth boy, second row. Something about his eyes are searching.
Now I move on to the little girls. Do little girls ever change? Holding hands, conveying the closeness of sisterhood. Perhaps the two small little girls in white dresses in the front are twins. My great grandmother had a set of twin daughters. All of the girls are beautiful little girls as they look out to the camera. What are the girls on the right holding in their hands? In the one little girl’s hand looks like a small book. Was it a Sunday School prize? A New Testament, perhaps won for perfect attendance? The one little girl on the far right looks to be holding a “play purty”: a dolly. She is holding it by the doll’s yarn hair.
The young ladies are dressed in their best. The hats have tassels and bows and wide brims. Tall and elegant like mountain trillium, the ladies exude a certain charm. They seem quiet and reserved but I wonder if there is a competitiveness between them. They are lovely young women with keen sharp eyes and soft skin. The mountains have been kind to them. One of these young ladies is my grandmother, but sadly we can’t determine just which one she is, although I have my own idea.
Then I see the sweet mountain mother, holding her baby and watching as the little one sucks it’s thumb. I wonder if she, while gazing at the picture for the first time, had wished she had been looking at the camera instead.
I move to the older ladies. Well worn faces of a different time, these mountain women were the matriarchs of the family. They were queens although I’m sure if they knew I said that now, they would let out a laugh. They were the backbone of the family. The soft help meet for the strong man, and the ever present heart of the home. They would teach the younger ones all they know. So on and so on down the line.
This is what I come from. These are my people. I live and breathe because of them. I have deep set eyes and high cheekbones because of that man on the far left. I am stubborn and clever because of that one young woman. I am theirs and they are mine. What a wonderful treasure to have!
Have you really studied an old picture of your ancestors lately?