When my grandmother died a few years ago, she left behind her own mother's trunk, filled with photographs (some of them dating from the mid 1800s), stacks of old postcards, a few tragic telegrams, and a letter signed by J. Edgar Hoover about my missing great-aunt, who'd run off to California.
Many of the pictures don't include names. The fashion--those late 1800s hats!--are clues. So are the events that were deemed important enough to photograph: a baptism in a river, fiddlers, a woman and her bull, a typing class, a flood, a wedding or two, lot of mothers and daughters. The location: Franklin, North Carolina, and thereabouts.
Pulling these relics out once in a while is my version of time travel. There are so many stories in those faces, hints of yearnings in those postcards sent from (what I'm sure seemed like exotic, far-flung places) Atlantic City and Miami. And there are blue notes, too, like the telegrams announcing a soldier's death. And yet there is joy, too, captured in faces--a girl with her goat, a group of fiddlers, men on a wagon-loaded barrel.