Family Photos : What were they thinking?

My Daddy’s parents didn’t smile in photographs and looking back at photographs of their grandparents and great-grandparents, it seems like they were carrying on a family tradition. But, their photographs draw me in even more than if they were.

This past weekend, I invited my aunt, uncle, and my cousins and their families to our house after my Grandmother passed away. I knew the weekend would be full of extended family and friends and we just needed a little bit of time together first.

We laughed and cried as we told stories we remembered of Grandmother and Granddaddy, heard new ones we’d never heard before from my aunt, and looked through old family photos of my Grandmother’s.

I fell in love with this photograph of my Grandmother holding my Daddy when he was about two months old.

 

 

It is the only photograph I’ve ever seen of my Daddy as a baby. Most of the photographs I’ve seen of him as a child were taken at school, so this photograph is even more special.

My Grandmother looks so young in this photo and so very much like my sister. Her eyes make me wonder what she was thinking. Was she imagining what her new baby boy’s life would be filled with? How he’d one day marry and have children of his own? Or was she just trying to keep his arms and legs still since you can tell in the photograph that he’s kicking his feet and moving his arms around so fast that they are a blur in the photo.

I get so caught up in looking at old family photos and wondering what they were thinking, what was happening in their lives, and even what they’d eaten for breakfast. Their lives completely intrigue me.

Like this photo of my Daddy’s family when he was a young boy.

 

The actual story from my aunt is that my Grandmother had just bought Daddy a new pair of jeans for school and he couldn’t wait to wear them, even though she hadn’t hemmed them.

It made me wonder what the discussion was about wearing those jeans. Was it similar to when my Mama told me not to wear my new turtleneck we’d bought for the fall on my first day of school while the temperature was still in the 90’s? Was it like it would be at my house when my son wants to wear something I don’t want him to wear and he is most determined to wear it or burst? Was my Grandmother thinking more about what my Daddy really wanted at the moment instead of caring about how it looked?  Was she cringing just a little bit inside at the thought of my Daddy having those jeans rolled up to his knees and wondering what people would think – especially when she realized a photograph was being taken?

The photo wouldn’t have nearly as much intrigue had it not been for my Daddy’s jeans. I catch myself going back to this photo over and over just studying all the little details and wondering what they were thinking. Why were they where they were? Who took the photograph? When did my Daddy’s jeans actually get hemmed?

As we looked through the pictures we laughed and talked about how Granddaddy couldn’t stand to have his picture taken.

It was just a known fact that whenever someone would pull out their the camera on Christmas or birthdays or family get-togethers, Granddaddy would quickly disappear. If he didn’t disappear, he’d cover his face with a box top from a Christmas present, his hat, his hand, or something to block his face being in the picture.

Now, when I was a little girl, that just bugged me.

I would hear my Daddy telling him, “Daddy, we just want one good picture and then you can go.” Granddaddy would just laugh and say, “I don’t do pictures.”

And if you did happen to catch him in a mood where he’d let you snap a picture of him, a smile wouldn’t be what you captured. A smirk, maybe. But never a smile.

I always wondered why he didn’t like to have his photo taken. I made up elaborate stories in my mind that he had been a gangster earlier in his life and didn’t want to be recognized. Why in the world that was the drama I invented, I have no clue. But Grandmother would tell stories of how they met and I always made Granddaddy to be just a bit more mysterious than he actually was.

Grandmother was the only daughter of six children, her mother had passed away when she was a young girl, leaving her the one responsible for the household for her family. Grandmother cleaned, cooked and cared for her father and brothers and acted as a mother figure to her brothers even after her father remarried.

One afternoon, as she stood outside with a few of her brothers,  a man rode up to them on a large, white horse. She said his gravely voice and piercing eyes made her immediately fall in love with him and as she told me growing up, “the rest is our life.”

Who would have guessed that my sweet, no-nonsense Grandmother was such a romantic – or that my Granddaddy was such a heartthrob.

Thirteen years her senior, they made a handsome couple. Granddaddy with his nose shifted from who knows what and Grandmother with a voice as delicate and gentle as her spirit. She cared for him with a dogged-determination for him to have everything he needed. I firmly believe that because of her, he lived two weeks shy of his 99th birthday.

Photo after photo that we looked at of Grandmother’s showed my grandparents without a smile, if the photo included him at all.

And then I remembered.

This.

 

And I cried.

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Comments

    • 6

      Robyn says

      Bridget, you are a sweetheart! And because you said you were sobbing, I started crying again. Isn’t that the way it goes though – Someone cries and then it starts a cycle of crying?

  1. 7

    says

    I really love this post, Robyn. I always wonder, too, about people in old photos…what their lives were like, how they lived, what they enjoyed. It’s the same when I’m antique shopping. I find old kitchen utensils and wonder about the hands that held them and used them before they wound up there.

  2. 9

    says

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. Stories like these inspire me to photograpph more and to truly scrapbook. Not just make pretty pages, but to tell the stories of our time together in this life. Your posts are always a treasure.

    • 10

      Robyn says

      Thank you, Kim. My Grandmother wrote on the back of every single picture. She included the name of each person photographed, the date, and the location (on some, not all). When my Daddy passed away, she also gave me a jug that had been in the family for generations. On the bottom was taped a note listing the history. And you know, all these details she preserved make me want to know even more. :)

    • 14

      Robyn says

      Thank you so much, Amy for being there for me every step of the way through all of this. You are truly an amazing friend! Love ya!

  3. 22

    says

    Oh hon – this made me cry. What special memories and stories you have. Love the jeans story (and consequently your turtleneck in August story!).

    I love you and am praying for your family. You are so blessed to have so many fond memories. May you be lifted up and comforted through those.

    • 23

      Robyn says

      Oh thank you so much, Kristen. You are a sweetheart and I really appreciate your thoughts and prayers. Yes, the turtleneck situation will surely come back to bite me, I feel sure. Sort of like the story, “you pay for your raisin’.” Which, honestly, I always took very literally when I was young and wondered why in the world people wouldn’t pay for their raisins. Whatever.

  4. 24

    says

    My grandmother has been gone many years Robyn and in my mind; she was the sweetest of the sweet. She, like your grandmother, never knew anything but hard work though. Five kids…imagine, in days without washing machines or dishwashers; when there were no modern convenience foods either. Yet I never heard her complain and for me, she was the sweetest light in my life so my heart is filled with compassion for your loss.

    I have some old photos that I’ve recently discovered and there is nary a smile in any of them…maybe they were of a generation that just did not share their feelings in the way we do…because the love and joy was there, just not in photographs.

    Take good care; I hope that soon the pain of her passing will be replaced with only the memories you cherish.

  5. 30

    says

    Love the heritage, the memories, the insights you have … and the last photo (sniff sniff).

    The photos I recall of my grandparents – no smiles. But for sure smiles later on in life …

    So beautiful, Robyn. I wondered how things were going …

    Love you, friend! xo

  6. 31

    says

    Robyn, I’m so sorry to hear about your grandmother. Grandparents play such an important roll in our lives and I know you will miss her. I loved this post and all of your sentiments and you have me teary eyed. Hugs for you.

  7. 32

    says

    What a lovely post!

    Made me realize I should stop and appreciate photos a little more. Can’t say that I regularly ponder what the subjects are thinking, but it’s so true!

    And while they may not have smiled much with their mouths I see some smiling of the eyes, especially in the first picture of your Grandmother holding your Daddy as a baby. ; )

  8. 33

    says

    Every single one of those photos is amazing. I love all of the emotion in them. This story definitely made me a bit choked up – I’m so sorry to hear about your grandmother, but what fantastic memories to have. Thanks for sharing!

  9. 34

    says

    This was a beautiful post that brought tears to my eyes. I don’t have many old photos to look through, but I am trying to create them for my daughter. I try to make sure to print photos instead of just posting them on Instagram or Facebook so that she can one day hold them in her hands. Reading this reminded me why I do that.

  10. 36

    Joyce says

    Can you imagine what they would be thinking if they could see
    all of the wild antics that we do in photo’s today? I can hear
    it now….what on earth were are they thinking? God bless you
    for such a sweet post. Ahhhhh the memories of your grandparents.
    I lost my mom this past April 16 and my daughter married on
    May 19th.
    Bitter sweet.

  11. 37

    says

    My sympathy in your grandmother’s death. I know from past posts what a special woman she has been in your life. I love to look at old photos, too, and often wonder the very same things as you. My grandma, as her health has started to be more of an issue, has gotten increasingly more sentimental, sharing lots of little tidbits from the past. I know that when she eventually passes away, it will be monumental for me. Hugs to you, Robyn.

  12. 38

    says

    I’ve read this posting a few times & every time it makes me smile & she’d a few happy tears.. I’ve linked it on my blog but will remove it if you’d like.

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