Sunday, June 30, 2013

old photographs and new memories (or my exotic french lineage)

last week when we left ohio, we brought back not only my nephew ryan, but a trunk full of ancestors as well.


and don't think i didn't know what precious cargo i was carrying in the seats behind me:  six kids and at least 100 years of relatives jammed into this chaotic convoy.

aunt abbie
no, the ghosts from my mother's vintage-clothing-pink-guest-room did not jump into the backseat of the yukon when we pulled away from ohio.  (sorry to disappoint you.  THAT would have made for a much more interesting blog post). but, i did bring back a whole bunch of old photo albums chock full of ancestors who are now enjoying the after-life -- at least we hope they are.  (too morbid)?
aunt jenny
and i'm not just talking about some photos from the 1970s (though that would certainly be considered ancient by the standards of my children).  i am talking about folks from the 1870s!  yes!  that old.  that ancient.  that archaic. i think the oldest photo i had riding in the car with me was from the late 1800s. can you imagine? keep in mind photography wasn't even really invented until the 1800s.  tidbit: the first photograph recorded in history was taken by joseph nicéphore niépce in 1826 in france.  felix toumachon opened the first portrait studio in 1853 in paris.  by the way, these ancestors in this picture above also originated in france. (lutzelstein and alsace to be exact -- i know this because i unearthed in these old albums some documents explaining my exotic french lineage --  oh la la!  

okay, so maybe you aren't fascinated with the fact that i come from a french lineage or that i transported a hundred years of photos across state lines last week.  but i am.  i am absolutely intrigued, not with the transporting exactly,
(though it is rather funny to think about all these starch-shirted and stiff-collared progenitors riding back to minnesota along with their posterity: six kids, their ipods and iphones and country music blaring). i'm pretty sure the mother in the first photo up above wouldn't have put up with any monkey business in my vehicle. i certainly wouldn't have messed with her.  so though the transporting was interesting, what i am really charmed with is the fact that we have these amazing albums of family history.

the pages and pages of pictures are priceless.

priceless and interesting.  and maybe even a little humorous.

i mean, imagine this family...

hanging out with this family -- their direct descendants...

can you see the family resemblance?

so, times have changed.

and though, i'm kind of glad we don't do serious family portraits like that anymore, (can someone please explain to me why people didn't smile back then?) i like the fact that we have these pictures of those relatives who walked before us.  and i just find it kind of cool that though the resemblance is rather weak, we are all still, somehow, related.

while we were in ohio my mom had planned a little reunion of sorts with her cousins.  they had been very close growing up and have remained close.  so on saturday they all got together and brought along any child or grandchild they could wrangle up for the affair.  the morning of this little party, my sister and i sat with my mom discussing these relations.  some who we knew pretty well and some who we had actually never met.  "but how are we all related, mom?"  we kept asking.  my mother began her detailed delivery of the great family tree. (i won't go into all that -- you should  really thank me). but what we did glean from her thorough ancestral explanation is that every person who would be attending the party was somehow related to my great grandparents, herman and pauline vernick.

now we had a starting place. a beginning. something to build on.

meet pauline and herman vernick. (i personally wish she was perched on the handle bars of his motorcycle...but she doesn't strike me as the type).  anyway, there they are --  my great grandparents and the beginning of it all.

and that was all i needed to get going.  i knew there were old albums hidden away in drawers and closets around my parents' house, and, by golly, i was going to find them.  we were going to have a picture of herman and pauline at this party -- no matter what. had i been given an extra hour or so, we'd all have had laminated copies of their photo hanging by lanyards around our necks -- family reunion name tags.  well, the name tags didn't appear, but we did come up with an arrangement of sorts.

that morning i sat on my parents' patio pouring through these albums and marveling at the recording of life 100 years ago.  my grandmother, corinne, was quite the archivist and did a superb job organizing and preserving these treasures.  i have always loved old photographs, but to hold in my hands the pictures of my past is something else altogether.  even my teenage daughters were quite taken with the whole thing.  they looked over my shoulder oohing and aahing at the clothing and the hats and the serious expressions.  my oldest, emily, even captured the moment in one of her instagram posts.  the people in these photographs couldn't have even imagined something like iphones or instagram 100 years ago. but there we were taking pictures with our phones and sharing our history with the world wide web. sorry, but i am downright smitten with the irony of this collision between old and new. (i think i'm obsessing here.  sorry.  i'll try to regain my composure. deep breath, jody).

the girls and i loved this photo of my grandpa and his baseball team.  he's the one in the center of the first row.  a total stud, that grandpa.  we decided he looks a lot like leonardo dicaprio.  yes, we decided that.  just go ahead and agree with us. (obviously, still obsessing here. zero composure).

anyway, after pouring through the albums and finding all sorts of great pictures, we set up this table on the patio with photos of herman and pauline and their offspring.  during the party my mom was able to show some of her cousins and the great grandchildren and 2nd and 3rd cousins (once removed --what exactly is a 3rd cousin once removed?) pictures of the past.  maybe not everyone got quite the same kick out of it as my mom and i did, but that's okay.  no matter what the interest level, it is a wonderful thing to occasionally pause and consider the connections to our past.

we don't do that enough.

maybe that's why i am a bit.. um...over-the-top with my photography.  there is something about capturing a moment and knowing that someday it will again be viewed and maybe even a bit re-lived.  i know it is more important to live in the moment...but still...i'd like to think that occasionally we can do both:  live in it and record it well.

my mom had a big time of it with her cousins on saturday.  they sat around in the backyard telling stories.  i love this. i have always loved to sit and listen to their anecdotes.  especially with this particular group of relatives -- i assure you, there is no shortage on personality here  (must be the french lineage).  they grew up together running between homes and playing at their grandparents' house.  they shared holidays and picnics and
littler version of the same cousins above!
some rather crazy times.  they are now all in the their 60s and 70s with children and grandchildren, weak knees and arthritic hands...but no matter how many decades have passed, they are cousins and they have history.

speaking of cousins, i just have to share one of my favorite photos from the books.
 this my grandmother and her cousin, leona.  will you look at those bows.  just look at those bows, people!
in this same week, my own kids were surrounded by their cousins.  and i can't help but see the connection.  we live in a different time now days.  we are spread out across many states and we don't have as many moments together, but that's why it is so sweet to go back and re-connect.  even this week with my nephew ryan living with us, i can't tell you how many times i heard the kids say, "remember when we..."

and my prayer is that someday, my kids and their cousins might also have the chance and inclination to sit around in someone's backyard and talk also about the good ole days.  that someday ryan and tyler will tell the story of how they went tubing on lake minnewashta the summer they were 15 and 19 and barely survived.  maybe someday
they'll recount the crazy pilgrimage from ohio to minnesota when we were all piled tightly into the car for 13 hours...

who knows.

i know that a lot of families drift apart and don't have these kinds of memories or these kinds of connections.  things happen.  people change. but i don't think that changes the fact that it's important to know where you come from.  it's a privilege to know the people who share your past.  i think it does something important for us. it is certainly something worth working hard to hold onto.

and hard work it is.  i have sisters living on opposite sides of the united states.  it doesn't get any farther than new york and oregon.  i haven't lived in the same state as my siblings or cousins in over 15 years.  if there is one thing i grieve the most in all our moving, it has been the loss of time spent with extended family. i grew up with grandparents in the same house and cousins a few miles away. and i can tell you, i took it all completely for granted.  i hate the fact that rick's parents are 23 hours away and my parents 13. that's too far for grandparents to know their grandchildren and likewise.  you do the best that you can, but it's not the same.

and i'm not sure what to do about that.

i suppose it's one of the reasons i post (more than my share of) photos on facebook.  i guess what i'm saying in all those postings is, "here, here's what we're's where we's who we are...know us. please, please know us."  it's honestly been kind of cool since that whole social media thing got going.  i know it has a tremendous amount of flaws and issues and it can't take the place of face to face,  but i can tell you, i am better connected with my cousins and family today because of it.

and maybe that's really why i am so enamored with all these old photos.  it is something to hold on to.  something worth preserving.  the people of these pages had a special time and place where they were all doing life together. i want to protect that for them and i want to hold onto it for us.  not because we are to live in the past, but we are certainly able to learn from the past.

i've brought all these books back for a purpose.  i am not sure exactly what i plan to do, but maybe when winter comes again to minnesota (next month?), i'll find some time to figure out a way to take what my grandmother started and continue it. i'd like to take steps to preserve these photos and protect the past.  i'll probably scan a bunch of them into a shutterfly album which should be good for another hundred years or so...and then my granddaughter or great granddaughter can do the next technologically advanced thing.

scan. shutterfly. instagram.  facebook. email. texting. these are not words of the past, but they are words which will help to preserve the past and connect us in our present.   it's the meeting of the old and the new.  and it's good.  photography and photos and preservation has changed a lot in this century, but family is family.

and it's always worth protecting.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

as i've been pouring through these albums this week, i've noticed something else.  though times have changed tremendously, we do a lot of the same things today as they did back in the good ole days!  i found these old photos this week...while i was taking these new photos.  kind of funny.

my grandparents vernick hanging out in a hammock
my kids hanging out in their hammocks...we call these "enos" now.  
my grandfather and his brother with the catch of the day!
my son and his catch of the day this week!
brother-sister tubing (my mom and my uncle)!

brother-sister tubing (my kids - tyler and emily)!

here's a copy of my french lineage in case there are any doubters in the group.
 don't you just love that it dates back to 1640!


Simply LKJ said...

Wow...what a trip down memory lane. I too have to laugh at the gigantic hair bows. Katie is the spitting image of her great grandmother, and we have a picture of both wearing bows...Great Granny's definitely outshines hers! LOL

Marc Vernick said...

Well done, Jody. I was sad we couldn't make it. I swear one of these years I'm going to organize a family reunion, to be a yearly summer thing. Like the Rapp's party, 'member?

Michelle said...

Where do you think I could find hair bows like that?? I would totally put them on my Lillian Rose. I love the old pictures. I am constantly pouring over old pictures that I find.

Chantel said...

They didn't smile in photos because they had to sit still since the cameras moved so slowly. Any slight movement would create a blur and holding a smile for that long was impossible. Plus, photos were a rarity and expensive so it was more a serious event.

Aus said...

I just love stuff like this - so cool to be able to have this stuff preserved (just make sure you constantly update your media - stuff you might have had on "floppy disk" from back in the day you couldn't find a computer to read today!!)

And hey - I really DO think I see Aunt Jenny in you!! ;)

hugs - aus and co.