'Lovely lady'

Many posts ago, I bemoaned the fact that I had (and have) many photographs of unknown people, animals, and landscapes. I have always been lucky enough to have all these albums and bins, even if I can’t put names to faces, or labels to albums. I’ve learned a little about how to date clothing and surroundings, hairstyles and hats, and poses and props.

So it was with smug satisfaction and great glee years before reality set in that I retrieved a negative from its tightly curled state. Knowing who it was, I had it developed, and a safety negative prepared. A tall, statuesque lady of perhaps the Victorian era appeared in the resulting print. Although it was of poor quality, after it was nicely framed it made a personal gift for my father that Christmas.

The following conversation took place when he unwrapped it:

Dad: This is great!

Me: I thought you’d like it! It’s a print of one of those old, tightly curled negatives I found.

Dad: It’s wonderful, but . . . who is it?

Me: What do you mean “who is it?” It’s Nana Hayward, your grandmother!

Dad: No, it isn’t. Lovely lady, but she’s not my grandmother.

Dad’s reaction to the photo made me take a closer look at it, and I realized that the high ceilings shown were too high to be located in either of my family homes in Maine; perhaps it was taken at Nana Hayward’s apartment in Chicago. Perhaps it was a family friend who lived there.  Perhaps . . . perhaps.

"Lovely lady, but she’s not my grandmother."

We’ve never found out who that lady in the photo is, but Dad had a great time taking it around the neighborhood, showing it to all his friends for consideration and debate, but never figuring out her identity. Now that I am wiser by default and experience, I know not to just assume I know what I’m talking about, to always verify as much as possible the identities of the people in the photos I have before committing myself, and to be grateful when I get it right.

I didn’t display much gratitude at first, but my percentage is improving! I’m still laughing!

Jan Doerr

About Jan Doerr

Jan Doerr received a B.A. degree in Sociology/Secondary Education from the University of New Hampshire, and spent a long career in the legal profession while researching her family history. She has recently written and published articles for WBUR.org’s Cognoscenti blog: “Labor of Love: Preserving a 226-Year-Old Family Home and Preparing to Let It Go” and “The Value of Family Heirlooms in a Digital Age.” Jan currently lives with her attorney husband in Augusta, Maine, where she serves two Siamese cats and spends all her retirement money propping up a really old house.View all posts by Jan Doerr