As genealogists, we are always looking for new ways to have fun as well as share pieces of our family history with others. Especially others who might, just might, appreciate either the people involved, the history or the genealogy. Like, you know, the younger generation.
You just never know what might plant that seed.
Recently, my granddaughter, Phoebe, had a class assignment to obtain photos of a grandparent as a child and then take pictures of them today that shows the same spirit.
I was the fortunate grandparent selected, which meant that I also had the opportunity to look through old photos to find ones from my childhood, and to share with Phoebe stories of that time and place.
Until I began sorting through the photos, I never thought about why there weren’t any photos, other than school class photos, for about a 10-year period. Reflecting further, I realized that it was because we didn’t own a camera. We were “economically challenged” and a camera was a luxury. I never thought about it at the time.
My grandmother had a camera, but she died in 1960. My father apparently had a camera, because there were a few photos of me and Mom together that he had taken prior to his death in 1963.
I had never really talked to Phoebe about poverty and how we coped. I never knew anything different and our life, such as it was, just seemed normal to me. I didn’t think about discussing that time or those things.
I never told Phoebe that there weren’t places like Salvation Army and Goodwill at that time for low cost clothing. I had never explained about the kind-hearted woman, Gladys Caylor (1904-1997) who refurbished donated clothes, cleaned and repaired them, then invited people in need to “shop” in her living room and porch – never charging anyone one penny for anything.
We always took as little as we could, leaving as much as possible for people who needed more than we did. There were people much worse off than we were – people without food or shelter. We struggled and rationed our food, but never starved. I remember giving most of what little food we had left to a starving homeless beggar. I asked mother why, and she told me that he needed the food far more than we did – and “there but for the Grace of God…”
I learned about compassion at a very young age. Demonstrated lessons of heart stay with us for a lifetime.
I don’t know what we would have done without that generous lady. Mother was always embarrassed and tried to pay Mrs. Caylor, but she would never accept anything. She always insisted that it was nothing, that she enjoyed visiting with and helping people. She invited us to come and visit with her often, always feeding us while we were there too – whether we agreed to eat or not:)
May her soul rest in peace. She made such a difference in our lives.
I had never explained that we always, always, selected clothes “too big,” even if they were free, so I had room to “grow into them.” I don’t think I ever had clothes that actually fit. I don’t remember wearing suspenders, but I assuredly did, as evidenced by this picture, to hold my pants up!
I hadn’t failed to explain because this was a secret, but simply because I didn’t think about it. It’s just how life was and it seemed unremarkable. This was my normal – and I’m none the worse for any of it today. In fact, I’m probably a better person because of those challenges – and examples.
These pictures are cute now and at the time, I was unaware that not everyone’s life was the same. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss. Other than losing important people in my life, I was mostly a happy child.
In preparation for our photo shoot, I sent Phoebe several pictures that she could select from. When she arrived, I didn’t know what to expect, other than we would have fun!
The first photo that Phoebe selected is one with me holding an iron and looking a bit pensive. I remember helping Mom making those curtains hanging in the window – I think from what was left of an old sheet.
Phoebe commented that the thing behind me didn’t look like an ironing board. I explained that we didn’t have an ironing board. When we needed to iron, which seemed like all the time, we put layers of blankets on that table, with a sheet over them, and that was our ironing board.
In this case, apparently the table wasn’t yet cleared to be transformed into an ironing board.
Phoebe thought there were flowers on the table, but looking closely, there were dyed Easter eggs and two chocolate bunnies, so this photo was taken near Easter.
Now for today’s recreated photo.
We found a flowered top in my closet, also now too large, that appropriately had been gifted to me second hand. It’s actually one of my favorites.
I’m a quilter, so the photo of the 5-year-old me holding an iron truly was prophetic as were the salvaged curtains.
Today, I have a large ironing board that my friend made for me using a sheet of plywood. It’s larger than most ironing boards, made specifically for ironing quilt tops, so we used a quilt as a cover and put a bouquet of flowers in the middle. My scissors are in evidence too, along with a plate collection from Mom and her mother.
I showed Phoebe her great-grandmother’s wedge irons for doll clothes that were heated in the fireplace.
We discussed when electricity was wired into homes. My mother didn’t have electricity as a child.
Laughter and Smiles
Phoebe said that when she thinks of me, she thinks of me smiling and laughing because I smile “all the time.” If her father had been along today, he would have rolled his eyes and said, “that’s not the mother I knew.” 😊
Thinking about that made me laugh!
Looking at the photos I sent Phoebe, apparently I did smile a lot, even then.
Me with Timmy. I loved that little doggie. He let me dress him in doll clothes.
I loved Rex and my grandmother too. Apparently, something was VERY funny.
There’s about a quarter century between these photos. Not much changed!
And another quarter century later. I came by this trait honestly. That’s my mother beside me at my wedding reception.
Phoebe snuck this one in on me.
If I’m going to be remembered for something, I want it to be for laughing and smiling a lot!
I only went to one prom in my life – and this was it. My hair had already been straightened with an iron and curled in just the places I wanted it to curl. I spent years fighting with my hair. Now I just embrace it. So much easier.
Mom had worn stage makeup while performing for years, so she knew exactly how to apply makeup while not getting it all over oneself. Not me, I struggled and still do.
Here, I’m sitting at Mom’s vanity in her bedroom before the prom working on my makeup. Mom sat at this vanity every single day to arrange her hair and apply makeup. Her parents gave the vanity, along with the rest of the bedroom set, to her as a birthday gift when she turned 16.
After mother passed away, in 2006, I inherited the vanity along with her other bedroom furniture. Today, this graces the guest bedroom where Phoebe and her family stay when they visit.
We found Mom’s hand mirror that was laying on the vanity in the prom photo from 1971. Had I thought, I actually have the table runner, the gold powder box, the white porcelain tray and the pincushion too.
Phoebe and I looked through the drawers and I showed her the pea and marble-sized “pretty rocks” that her father had collected and given to his grandmother as a small boy.
Phoebe holds them in her hand today, but Mom held these smooth pebbles close to her heart her entire life.
I remember being so proud of myself in this picture of my second grade class. I’m the girl in the back row, second from right in the blue dress, just to the right of Mrs. Malone, my teacher.
I was quite proud because the smallest children were in the front row with the smallest desks. The medium height kids were in the middle two rows with medium desks.
Only the tallest kids were in the rear row and we had the “big kid” desks.
We were told to sit up straight and look busy. Notice our reading books on our desks. Reading was my favorite activity.
I explained to Phoebe that the classroom had two magazine subscriptions. One was to National Geographic magazine and the other was to Highlights for Children.
The day each month when those arrived was the best day EVER. I liked both magazines, but I devoured National Geographic, cover to cover. I read them over and over.
In June 2018, I was featured in a story in National Geographic magazine about the Lost Colony of Roanoke. It just so happens that I still have my own desk that I used at home as a child. My kids both used this desk too.
You can see how small and low to the ground the chair and desk are. The top of the desk is below my knee, with the chair seat maybe 6 or 8 inches off the floor. I’m amazed I could sit down that far today, or get up😊
It’s braced with iron and miraculously still solid after all these years. I think it has a couple more good generations left – so maybe this will be Phoebe’s one day too.
Phoebe told me to hold up the National Geographic magazine with the Lost Colony article and look proud of myself – just like second grade. Mrs. Malone would be proud. So would Mom.
Phoebe loved the symbolic bookshelf behind me. At first, I was unhappy about the packing boxes in the photo, but they too are symbolic. Now I’m packing and sorting, preparing for life’s next exciting chapter, wherever it leads.
I’ve come so very far from that desk in Mrs. Malone’s classroom.
I’m firmly convinced that the enchanted, mesmerizing world revealed in the National Geographic magazine was part of what piqued my curiosity about all things scientific. The first influential steps in a lifelong journey. Today, I’m honored to be an affiliate National Geographic, Genographic Project researcher.
This picture was taken on my 5th birthday. You can count the number of candles on the cake. I don’t remember what was in the gifts, but since my birthday was right after school started, many times I received books and school supplies.
While that might sound disappointing to some people, I didn’t mind at all. I loved books!
Oh, and I still love chocolate cake too!
Today, I often sit at the kitchen table and write my blog stories, like this one. Of course, I have my handy dandy phone by my side now too.
Phoebe took the photos in both black and white and color, adjusting the various camera settings. After all, this was a class assignment that we turned into a really fun afternoon.
We couldn’t decide which version we liked better. The black and white is more authentic to the original photo, but the colorized one reflects life today.
As luck would have it, these photos were taken right after my birthday, so half a century (plus) after the original birthday photo. The new phone and red case was my gift from Jim. How times have changed. We didn’t even have a phone at all when the original photo was taken, and computers that weren’t the size of a building were something waiting in the distant future to be invented.
While overseas recently, my friend gifted me with books. Some things never change.
The only thing missing from this picture was chocolate and that’s because I cleared it off the table without thinking!
Throughout our photo shoot, we talked about things like trait similarities between generations. Who has whose smile? Who loves chocolate? How are we and family members alike and different? Phoebe didn’t have an opportunity to know my mother in person, but maybe she knows her a little better today than she did yesterday.
If we don’t take the opportunity to share our memories, even the ones we don’t think are important or relevant, they die with us.
It’s your turn now.
What kinds of old photos do you have that might be recreated? Maybe during the upcoming holiday season?
What seeds might be planted?
Is there an opportunity to utilize old photos to share the history of your family and family members individually, and have fun at the same time?
What things did you take for granted about your life that the are foreign to a younger generation?
What started you on the path to where you are today?
Whose kindness made a difference in your life?
What pebbles do you hold close to your heart, and why?
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