Antique Details: Forgotten Lives in Antique Photographs

I bought this photo at an antique store over ten years ago. It was two dollars. There is a pencil drawn question mark on the back right corner.

Details in these old portraits always fascinate me. The rings on her fingers. The glint of her earring. The pin on her blouse. The handkerchief she holds in her hands. The waistline of her dress with a lace trim and the pinstripes on her skirt. The rolled up sleeves and how her arms make a flawless curve for the eye as you take in the composition of the photo. And that smile and look on her face as she looks straight into the camera. Through time, to us.

I wonder what story her life told.

A picture is worth a thousand words, but now hers are silent.

I am hopelessly drawn to these silent mysteries of history. Abandoned one roomed school houses out on dusty rock roads. The stones in the old parts of the cemetery that have worn past legibility. Brick streets from the 1920’s or 1940’s. Tin advertisements still holding onto forgotten corners from the 60’s and 70’s.

I don’t know very much about my own family history. Some members of my family have done genealogy research and tracked down names and newspaper clippings and cemetery plots of our ancestors and I should take the time to sit down with them and take in these things for myself.

But part of me will always be that young person coming to age feeling a longing to connect with a past and a tradition I know nothing about.

As a kid I devoured stories of Westward pioneers and ghosts. The frontier and the romance and the tragedy. I loved museums and old pictures. In high school and early college I did some historical reenacting and sewed together my longings for the past with my vibrant relationships of the present. And there I found romance and tragedy. I danced the Virginia Reel with strangers who held my hand and gazed at the stars with me for one night and I never saw them again. I wept at funerals for friends who passed too soon.

I live my life in the moment but there will always be that part of me that craves the connection to the past stories that brought me here to live mine. If an unidentified two dollar antique store find catches my eye, I buy it and put it up next to the pictures from my friends in my life now. I take walks at night and sometimes, if the streetlamps are just right, you can see the moment when the past turns into the future. But your mid-step will always be the present.

Here is another picture, one dollar this time.

No names. I think maybe they were brother and sister. Maybe cousins. I like to imagine it is spring and they are genuinely happy. I know their lives were difficult, maybe sad. But I hope it helps that even though they are gone, I will cherish this one happy moment of theirs for just one more lifetime.

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