Dixie Peach: Faces

Cooler than the other side of the pillow.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


On the shoe cabinet in my hallway I have photos of my maternal great-grandparents.

One is a photo of my grandfather's family - his parents along with him and his brother and two sisters. My great-grandparents are young in the photo...probably not more than thirty. My grandfather is about three years old in the photo so the picture dates from about 1910. His brother and older sister, Neil and Ruth, stand between their seated parents and my grandfather sits on his dad's lap while the baby, Gladys, sits on her mother's lap. I suspect that the event of having their photo taken was something important as they seem to be wearing the fanciest clothes they owned. Nothing lavish but the females are wearing ruffles and frills while the males sport more somber attire. I assume it's the fanciest clothes an Arkansas cotton farmer could provide. No smiles in the picture but back then I believe people didn't often smile in photographs. I've heard a lot about my grandfather's family. When my mother was growing up they lived across the road from her family and she was very close with her grandparents. I knew my grandfather's sisters and while his brother died before I was born I heard about what a black sheep he was. I never knew my mother's grandparents either. I always think of my great-grandparents in the way my mother described to me - sturdy, sensible people who believed in hard work and family loyalty.

One photo is of my grandmother's father - Pappy. When I was a kid he lived with my mother's parents and he died when he was ninety-two years old...I believe I was nine or ten years old at the time. I remember him as being a stooped old man who walked with a cane. He would come out mid-morning to the side yard of my grandparent's house and sit in a metal lawn chair under the pecan trees. I was always somewhat intimidated by him. He'd hug me and slap me on the back hard. It hurt and when I'd complain about it to my siblings or my mother I'd be told he didn't know any better. He was half-deaf and could barely hear it thunder and you'd have to get right up to him to talk to him. Of course this meant that his shouted replies would be directed about four inches from your face and it freaked me out a little to have this old man with his big wrinkled face up in my grill. I always had the feeling that he didn't know my name or any of the names of his great-grandchildren (and there was a passle of us) but he liked us all the same and when we'd visit he'd tell us to run around the back of the house to his room because he'd left some peppermints in a bag on his bed for us. I didn't give a flip about the peppermints but I loved that he had them for us.

Had I not been told I would have never known the man in the photograph is the same person. In the photo he's probably in his mid-twenties. It's hard to tell what year the photo was taken - the clothes not being a giveaway. He's wearing a plain dark suit with a white shirt. He does have on a string tie but it's not done properly, the ends merely looped over each other as if he had thought about making a bow and then gave up. The suit's wrinkly and the shirt seems a bit on the shabby side as well. I never knew what Pappy did for a living but I always understood he never did have much money. I like his face though with its strong, full mouth and straight nose. He's got a shock of thick, straight hair combed across his forehead and it wouldn't surprise me to know it's where I get my own thick hair. And I like the look on his face. He looks like a man that does what he pleases. So different than the face I remember being stuck up in mine.

The third photograph is the most interesting to me. It's a photo of my grandmother's mother, Litha Ann. She's likely in her early or mid twenties in the photo but I'm bad at guessing ages and she could be even younger. I never knew much about my grandmother's mother. She passed on when my grandmother was only six-years-old. I also understand that her family was somewhat well off and didn't approve of her marrying Pappy. She had some fine things that belonged to her - some furniture and clothes and china and that sort of thing and the story I heard was that after she died things just went all to hell. Pappy didn't have the sense or raising to know what he had and eventually broke and tore up everything of value that she had.

You can see from the photograph that she must have come from some money. Her dress is of a finer cut and style than say the dress my other great-grandmother is wearing in her own photograph. Litha Ann sits turned sideways in a straight chair with her arm up on the back of the chair and she's clutching a very full looking lacy handkerchief. Her other hand rests in her lap and on it you can see a ring on her left forefinger. Her long, dark, wavy hair cascades over her shoulders with the sides pulled back and held at the crown by a ribbon. Litha Ann isn't what I would call pretty by today's standards but I believe back in her day she would have been considered to be a handsome woman. Her expresion haunts me though. She's not smiling in her photo either but the expression on her face seems almost pensive. I've always had the feeling that her mind was a million miles away from sitting and having her photograph taken.

Litha Ann has always fascinated me. She wasn't talked about much when I was growing up and I always had the feeling she was a subject my grandmother didn't want to discuss. Still I look at her photo and wonder who this woman was. Why would she have married a somewhat shiftless man who seemed to be beneath her raising? What was it about each other that drew them together? Was it true love or was it a necessity of the times? I see bits of my face in her face - the same tight mouth and my nose seems to resemble hers - and I wonder if I carry anything else from her in me. I rather like that I haven't been told too much about her. It's left me to think about her and imagine what she was like and it's helped me to create a bond to her, even though she's been dead now for nearly one hundred years.

I hope we all recognize each other in Heaven.


Blogger Marshamlow said...

I do the same thing with old family photos. Now wondering about all the stories of all the people who have gone before me.

I am sure we will all recognize each other in heaven.

12:41 AM  
Blogger Mikki Marshall said...

Do you think? We will all recognize one another, I would really love to believe that. I have no pictures of my father's parents and very few memories. I only have a couple of my mom's parents. I would love some stories and answers.

Wonderful descriptions and I like that you keep them on the shoe closet door. But why didn't people smile back then? (i should talk)

1:04 AM  
Blogger christina said...

Yep, you'll recognize each other all right.

I just love those old photos - looking at your relatives tells you so much about who you are and where you came from.

Every time I go 'home' I keep meaning to sort out all the boxes of photos my parents have been keeping and take some for myself to bring back here.

8:13 AM  
Blogger Beege said...

They didn't smile because film exposure took so long back then--they had to stay perfectly still for a long time--I can't remember the exact amount of time. Long enough anyway that some photographers strapped their subjects into wire harnesses and clamped their heads into position so they couldn't move. I think if my head were clamped into a wire harness, I'd look pretty stern, too! ;) Anyhow: if people smiled while the picture was being taken, they came out blurry, so it was better to not smile at all.

I learned all this from my photog brother--so if I get some of the terms wrong, forgive me. :)

2:50 PM  
Blogger Dixie said...

Brilliant explaination, Beege! Thanks, doll!

10:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was beautiful Dix. Honestly.

I get the same feelings when I looks at old photographs, but it seems to pull harder at my heart when I'm looking at old homes.

10:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are a wonderful writer -- I found you through Poppy Mom, and I'm so glad I did!

5:11 AM  

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