This is one of my all-time favorite photographs, for so many reasons.
First, there’s the obvious … four generations of women on my mother’s side of the family – what a gift to have this image.
Carrie Frances Mills Elliott – seated
Irma Frances Elliott Shelton – checked dress
Janet Arlene Shelton Stewardson – dark dress
and me … cute as a bug, right ?
Second, it makes me laugh. Look at Grandma. She does not look happy to be doing this at all. Who knows? Maybe she wasn’t feeling well that day. I remember she wasn’t crazy about having her picture taken, so you kind of had to sneak up on her to get a good smile. But, boy, when she smiled? Best grandma face ever! I could talk about her forever … the woman was born to be a grandma. She was a lovely daughter, a terrific mother, and a great friend … but her gift, her reason for being put on this earth, was to be a grandma. She cooked like a grandma, she sewed like a grandma, she told stories like a grandma, she grew flowers like a grandma, she spoiled us like a grandma, she hugged like a grandma, and she loved like a grandma. Still – she didn’t like to have her picture taken. Silly Grandma. (Please note – my Grandma was not a giant … this was taken from an odd angle, probably to get us all in.)
Third, I like this because it’s really the clearest image in my head of my great-grandmother. She died when I was barely 5 years old, so my memories are sketchy at best. But they all look like this – a tiny little woman, with soft white hair and a serious smile. My little sister is named for her, and was born the same year Granny died. The only things I really know about her, I know because Mama tells me the stories.
Fourth, I like it because it gives me a real sense of how I came to be me. I am exactly like them, and nothing like them. I have characteristics of each of them, and of none of them. When I look at these faces, they don’t just hold memories for me, they feel very “here and now,” even though two of them are gone. They feel immediate and relevant and still influential on my character. These women – particularly Grandma and Granny – are salt-of-the-earth women. Their stories are very blue collar, hands in the soil, feet on the ground stories. When I first began searching my family history, I thought those stories were boring, that they weren’t really stories at all. I was wrong. It’s a very solid place to stand, which has allowed my mother and me (and my brother and sister and my niece and nephews and cousins) to stretch and reach far beyond the boundaries of these women.
I think that’s what families are for, aren’t they ? To ground us, teach us, bind us, and set us free. And when I search our history, and find another name or place that connects me, I gain insight and encouragement.
Hard to believe one little snapshot says all that, huh ??