I search out antique stores with such passion until I think my spirit remains there overnight and converses with the ancient photos I saw that day. I picked up each one and gazed at it longingly, searching for my face in the stern lines of the sepia toned or black and white faces that gazed back at me. I can’t bring myself to purchase one of these treasures and bring it home with me to love. If I did, the next person to gaze at the photos in that particular bin may have been a descendant in search of her ancestor and it may well have been the picture I took home. I couldn’t deny her the opportunity to find a part of herself, while I’m constantly looking to find a part of me.
I know there must be photos of my ancient relatives lying in antique stores from Ohio to North Carolina to Georgia to Florida, for it is in these states my ancestors settled. Orphaned at seventeen, there is much about my family I do not know, from both maternal and paternal lines. So, I search. One day I might find that elusive picture, or pictures, and then I will buy it and take it home with me. I will put it in a special spot and I will treasure it always. It, or they, will be passed on to my children with names written on the back with the familial connection to them. They will know more about their heritage than I. I am a part of their heritage and the antique photo is as well.
I see them there, sitting in their billow-tailed christening dresses.
Expressionless, looking like frozen-faced porcelain dolls.
Same – featured older siblings, staring bleakly in their ruffles and pantaloons,
Their knee – length trousers and sailor suits, stand stiffly at their sides.
In a high-bosomed, long-skirted black dress with cinched – in waist sits a mother, weary, worn, and cradling one of the unsmiling babies in her shawl-fringed arms.
Her hair part slices her scalp, the lackluster locks swept back into a tight bun,
And her work-roughened hands clutch a white handkerchief, as if in surrender.
Behind this tableau stands a stern-faced patriarch, old before his time, his face etched with sun-weathered lines, his shiny black suit sleeve is short at his knobby wrist, as he rests his hand upon his mate’s already burdened shoulder. Solemn, they stare at the man who hides his head beneath a black cloth — and captures their likenesses for all time.
This picture is of whom? These ancient relatives who were once members of
someone’s family? Long forgotten, they now make their home in a bin of similar
photographs — way in the back of a dusty antique store, among the refuse of
other people’s lives. Mistreated and forlorn, they lay there with the others, hollow
eyes endlessly gazing out, searching for a family member to take them home.
Who are they, these forgotten ones? Surely someone loved them at one time. How could they end up here unloved and unwanted? Perhaps their destiny is to lie in some stranger’s scrapbook titled “Old Pictures.” Or to hang on some restaurant wall to be ogled and marveled at.
Old pictures without names. Old pictures of someone’s mother. Someone’s grandfather. Someone’s child. Who could give away their heritage as if it never was?