Monday, July 30, 2007
I troll a lot on eBay (ok, I buy too--is there a 12-Step program yet for eBayers?) and one thing I collect, among other things, are old farmhouse aprons. For some research I am doing, I recently did a search on eBay for "old farm photos" and was amazed at the amount available. Several sets, both offered by the same seller, caught my eye and I bought them at a low, and only, bid. I was attracted initially by the apron worn by Grandma Love (which, no, didn't come with the photograph!) but also her weathered face and rural surroundings--and that wonderful name which conjures so many good things about Grandmothers.
They are black and white and from the earlier part of the last century. One set is from a small farm in Coalgate, Oklahoma and depicts "Grandma Love" in several shots, one with a young boy, Buck Jones, perhaps her grandson. On the back they are marked with the names and the place and the date: Thanksgiving, November 25, 1948 (only seven years after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared the fourth Thursday in November to be our official day of Thanksgiving). It must have been a warm day, given their clothes and no appearance of snow. Coalgate is a small town in southcentral Oklahoma, with just over 2000 people in the 2000 census, and apparently has a mining history as well as a museum to mining.
That night, after dinner, Grandma Love and her family likely gathered around the wireless and may have heard a special Thanksgiving installment of THE ALDRICH FAMILY. Or, perhaps they listened to a more chilling episode of SUSPENSE which starred Agnes Moorehead, Margaret O'Brien, and Lurene Tuttle, among others, in "The Screaming Woman," adapted from a Ray Bradbury short story. The plot involved a Thanksgiving setting and describes "little Margaret," who "can hear a woman screaming from beneath the Earth. But when she tries to convince her parents of what she hears, they don't believe her." Grandma Love may have even been aware that the first wide-audience television broadcast was made on November 25, 1948, if the radio or newspaper told them about it. Television likely didn't come to their farm for several more years, at least.
Grandma Love must have had some hard years on the farm: managing through the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, several World Wars, long hot summers with inevitable tornados followed by bitter prairie winters. One can only draw so much from a photograph and it is what is not said that is so intriguing. What saddens me about seeing old photographs like these in antique shops, yard sales, or on eBay (and these are the first photographs I've ever purchased) is that they are someone else's relatives or homes--someone else's history. I feel somewhat intrusive for even looking, let alone buying and wondering about them.
These photographs belong in a photo album or at least an old trunk in a relative's attic or a bureau drawer. Unless the people depicted wrote letters or books that have been preserved, these forlorn images are likely the only trace of them. It gives me pause to think that we are truly passing through this life and eventually are forgotten. I can't imagine letting photographs leave a family but perhaps in an estate sale, when there is no one left to claim them, that is the only thing left to happen. Better that than to burn them or throw them away.
So many photographs are unidentifiable either because everyone who knew the people or places in them have passed and can not provide information about them. Or, in most cases, no one has taken the time to write on the backs of the photograph the basic information like "who, what, where, when." Another reason I was drawn to these photographs was because this information was provided, in artful longhand, on the backs. Someone took the time and care to document them for posterity.
Seeing Grandma Love has provided me with two impulses: to finish archiving the family photographs from my mother's side and make digital copies for everyone in my family (not to mention organizing the many photographs, slides and digital images I have taken for the past 25+ years). And, if anyone should find this blog through a search on Grandma Love or Coalgate, Oklahoma (or young Buck Jones who is depicted with her--he would likely be in his mid-60s today as I'm guessing from the photograph he is about 7 or 8--there is also another photo taken on this farm of a middle-aged woman in round spectacles marked "Mom" with the same date) and can make a reasonable claim to them, I will happily give them to their rightful family. In the mean time, I will contact the eBay seller to see if she can provide additional information. I have also briefly checked for a local historical society in Coalgate but have so far come up short. In the meantime, Grandma Love is welcome to stay with me for safekeeping.