Awhile back I was cleaning out stuff and came across an old picture. It was large, probably equivalent to a 16×20, in a wooden oval frame. The picture was old, I mean old, and had begun to crack. There was no glass protecting it. I couldn’t tell if it was on canvas or paper. The picture was of two people, a man and a woman. The setting looked like it was perhaps an early form of a portrait studio.
I was mesmerized by this picture. I had no idea who these people were. Or better yet, how it turned up in my possession. I showed it to my sister and kids and they all had the same reaction. Scrunched up noses while whispering “creepy.”
Obviously they didn’t see what I saw in this picture. They saw two creepy people we didn’t know in an old creepy picture. I saw a story.
Who were they? Were they husband and wife? Brother and sister? Lovers? How did they earn their living? Was he a man of God? A drinker? Maybe both? Was she warm and loving or cold and distant? Did she pine for a secret love? Did they have children? Were they born here or cross the sea on a ship? The possibilities were endless. They were no longer two creepy people. They had a story.
I kept that picture and swore I’d hang it one day near my writing desk. Still not knowing who these two people were. Then the darnedest thing happened.
Christmas Eve, I was going through one of several totes of old photos I have, picking out pictures of my mother’s side of the family. I was going to my cousin’s house for a get-together later in the day and thought it would be fun to look at some of the old photos. Then what to my wandering eyes should appear? A picture of the picture! And written on the back, in my paternal grandmother’s handwriting, were the words “Grandpa and Grandma Hall.” The man and woman in that picture were no longer just two random people, they were my dad’s great-grandparents, and my great-great grandparents.
Although finding the picture of the old creepy picture solved a family puzzle (who were these people and what am I doing with the picture?), it kind of put the story to rest. I couldn’t make up a backstory for my two random people anymore. They had their own story. I am interested, though, in discovering what that story was.