Monday, December 26, 2011

Dead Relatives - So Much More Fun than the Living Variety

So the Winter Solstice gathering at my parents' house turned out to be much less onerous than I had feared. We got about a foot of snow on the day it was originally scheduled, so the big shindig got cancelled, and I ended up just having dinner with my folks the next day.

This meant that they were significantly less wound up than they generally are when orchestrating a big to-do, so much of the "weird" didn't materialize. Woo Hoo!

Anyhow, they've been on a de-cluttering kick of late, and one of the things they wanted to get rid of were all of my grandmother's old photo albums. I eagerly agreed to take them, and we spent most of the evening looking at old photos with my dad telling old family stories and recollections. It was actually great!

My grandmother was the daughter of Italian immigrants, and since she was the only grandparent that I really knew, my sense of family history is very much tied up with her. So despite my strawberry blonde hair and fish-belly white complexion, I've always sort of considered myself to be Italian.

Anyhow, check out these amazing pictures. (You can click on any of them to see bigger resolution if you're so inclined.)

This (we believe) is my great-grandparents Maria & Giovanni on their wedding day. They are the couple on the left, and we're guessing that the couple on the right are her parents.

What I totally love are the expressions on their faces. Giovanni has a sort of shell shocked look of OMG what the hell did I just get myself into, and Maria looks thoroughly pissed off. It's sort of hard to blame her though. She's 15 years old, has just been uprooted from the only home she's ever known, spent several months traveling half way around the world, to be married off to some guy she's never met before. Sort of puts the glorification of the past (that I can't help but slip into from time to time) into perspective, don't it?

Then 10-15 years later we have the Christening of one of my Grandmother's younger siblings.

I admit it sort of fills my brain with a bit of cognitive dissonance to see this photo. According to family lore, Maria had a terrible temper, and I grew up hearing stories of how she'd descend into fits of rage and throw butcher knives at her children and grandchildren (my father included). Hard to square that with the peaceful faces pictured here.

Anyhow, Grandma grew up in Leadville, a mining town with quite a colorful history, and her albums are full of pictures of daily life.

The family home...

Road trip...

Horsing around with friends (Grandma is on the right)...

Being silly in front of the camera...

Going skiing...

Dates with boys... Grandma's on the right, her younger sister on the left.

I'm not sure why these photos are so compelling to me. I guess I tend to attribute a certain seriousness to the past that is strikingly absent in Grandma's pictures. I mean, change the clothes, the hair styles etc. and these look pretty much like any pictures you'd see today on Facebook.  

As a child, my father would always talk about how poor his family was, but somehow, I don't see poverty when I look at these pictures. I mostly just see people living what look to me like fairly normal, happy lives.

I suppose everybody puts on a good face for the camera, but I can't help but think that wealth and happiness are not necessarily evenly correlated.

Anyhow, in all these photos, there was one that made me laugh out loud. These are the parents of my grandmother's second husband... so I guess that makes them my dad's step-grandparents.

I couldn't help but think of Grant Wood's famous American Gothic painting...
Oh my... perhaps there is some "traditional American" in my family history after all!

I guess when it comes right down to it, people are just people... whatever the time, place or circumstance.  Somehow I think we'd all be a lot better off if we remembered that fact more often.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              


  1. Great photos!
    Re: being poor; I remember an elderly uncle mentioning that in the Depression people didn't feel especially poor because there were people all around in the same predicament. Thus, poverty is a relative term?

  2. Maybe the secret to enjoying the get-together was going into it with low expectations ;-) How fun to have these pieces of your family history!

  3. These pictures are great, and it's great that you know the stories behind them.

    You're right, people are just people. We do need to remember that.

  4. What great old photos! I have all my families old albums too. That last photo really is funny except I thought of Auntie Em and the Uncle from the Wizard of Oz!!

  5. Merry - Yup, poverty is relative... my dad's poor, my mom's poor, my cousins are poor. :) Seriously though, you're totally right. From the perspective of most of the world we're all richer than kings.

    Melissa - Now, if I can just get them to lower their expectations about everything else...

    Candi - I sure wish I knew more of the stories.54r657 (numeric comment provided by Smoky, the keyboard cat). But I really wish I'd sat down with Grandma before she died and gotten more info on a bunch of things. Sigh.

    Martha - Ha! It totally looks like Auntie Em! I guess there was a "depression era look".

  6. I love these photos! They're amazing. Thank you so much for sharing.


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