Thursday, November 26, 2015

Turkey Whisperer

On Thanksgiving Day, turkey is the highlight of the harvest table. My husband’s family historically were farmers, and many of them were in poultry. Turkey farmers.

Mathias turkey farm
Turkeys on the range

My brother-in-law was not a farmer, but in 1985 he managed to attract a flock of wild turkeys to his yard.

Donald Mathias and turkeys 1985
Donald and his feathered friends 1985

Those turkeys were far too trusting.

Happy Thanksgiving!

© 2015, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Sepia Saturday: Dog Kennel Graduate

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt inspires a look at spirit pictures and double-exposed photographs. As a product of the Polaroid One Step and Kodak Instamatic age, I enjoyed fairly clear pictures for many years. That is to say, people and events are easily recognizable even if poorly framed. It wasn’t until I purchased a REAL camera requiring me to load the film myself that the potential for double-exposures emerged. And emerge they did, and always at the most inopportune time.

It was May 1982 and Baby Sister was graduating from college. Surely if any milestone should be preserved, it was this one. We brought the GOOD camera that day.

We also used the GOOD camera in July when we visited the grandparents and showed our year-old daughter her uncle’s hunting dogs. In September, we captured her joy in playing in the dirt in our little square-foot garden.

All on the same roll of film.

Double Exposed Photo
Jordan peering in at the dogs
Mary Jollette either reading the graduation program
OR praying we get good pictures
Double Exposed Photo
Mary Jollette receiving her diploma
sandwiched between views of Jordan playing in the dirt
Double Exposed Photo
It took me awhile to figure out Mary Jollette was not walking
toward the back end of some cows.
It's Jordan's legs -- a vertical shot turned horizontal --
her head is in the previous picture.
Bad photos seem to outnumber the good in the very old albums and envelopes of pictures passed down to me. They’re out of focus, faces are missing, people are too small to recognize, and dark spots and white spots obscure the intended subject. 

Sometimes I shake my head and wonder why anyone kept them.

Nancy Messier of My Ancestors and Me knows why. In looking at a group of pictures from a day spent with her daughters and grandchildren, she noticed the poor framing, the light and dark, the poor focus. Yet despite their poor quality, she kept them. After all, the point of the photo wasn’t to highlight technique. It was to capture forever those precious hours blowing bubbles and pulling kids in a wagon. With a calm recognition of how quickly children grow up, Nancy concluded that a bad picture is better than no picture.

Maybe that is something I knew but had forgotten, explaining why I carefully inserted all those double-exposed pictures into an album for safe-keeping. The pictures are a goulash of parental pride, a young woman’s accomplishment, a baby eager to pet that happy dog, a smiling face smudged with garden soil – stories flowing in and out of each other.

May and July 1982 Double Exposed Photo

But they still make my sister look like she graduated in a dog kennel.

If you visit the bloggers at Sepia Saturday twice, will you be double-exposed?

© 2015, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Sepia Saturday: Who ya gonna call?

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt is timed right for Halloween. When my two girls were in their peak trick-or-treating years, there were parties and festivities coming at them faster than you could say, “Boo.”  But there was one non-costume and non-candy event that provided a welcome relief:  the Halloween Story Hour at our local branch library.

Junior Woman's Club of Portsmouth Halloween Story Hour 1988 Russell Memorial Library
Halloween Story Hour at Russell Memorial Library
October 1988

The story hour was just one project of the Junior Woman’s Club of Portsmouth, of which I was a proud member from 1983 to 1991 when I reached the maximum age for membership as a JUNIOR. Most of our members were mothers of young children, so naturally children’s issues were at the heart of many club projects.

The real draw for most of the children who attended the Story Hour was not the delightful or spooky stories they would hear but the appearance of our special guests, the Crime Busters.

Junior Woman's Club of Portsmouth Halloween Story Hour 1988 Russell Memorial Library
Crime Busters and volunteers eager to dance

Not Portsmouth's Crime Buster car but similar
image from Flickr

The Crime Busters were a group of policemen capitalizing on the popularity of the “Ghost Busters” movie franchise. Not only did they show up in costume, but they also arrived in a fully tricked-out white station wagon like the one from the movie.

Portsmouth Crime Busters t-shirt
Crime Busters t-shirt
image courtesy Pam Newsom Matthews

Junior Woman's Club of Portsmouth Halloween Story Hour 1988 Russell Memorial Library
Crime Busters with some of the kids
My girls are the 4th from the left (wearing a shirt
with a cheerleader bear)  and on the far right back.
The Crime Busters entered to music and even did a little dance routine. They were a big deal in our community, in demand for parades, school programs, and parties. Somewhere in all the excitement they managed to spread a little “child safety” information as well.

These pictures remind me what fun I had in my ol’ JWCP days. Most of the “young mothers” are now grandmothers. Many of those happy children eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Crime Busters are now young parents themselves. Right now they no doubt are pulling together costumes for their little witches and Elsas, vampires and Batmans.

I wonder if any of these new parents are taking their little ones to a Halloween Story Hour.

If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, then follow the links at Sepia Saturday. I ain’t afraid o’ no ghost!

© 2015, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Sepia Saturday: So Dramatic

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday photo featuring the dramatic pose of a woman playing the harp has afforded me the opportunity to share some pages from my grandaunt’s college yearbook. While the Stratford Players put on some very dramatic performances at the Harrisonburg Normal School, the May Day Festival required the most lavish production. Students of elocution, chorus, and dance joined forces with the drama club to make May Day inspiring and unforgettable.

Program May Day 1923 Harrisonburg Normal School
In 1923, the theme was an Old English May Day,

Program May Day 1923 Harrisonburg Normal School

complete with Morris dancers,

Morris Dancers May Day 1923 Harrisonburg Normal School

milk maids,

a fiddler,
Fiddler?  I think that's a lyre.

Robin Hood, a jester, and a horse.

Now, honestly, I hate to sound judgmental, but any group of students who could craft the scenery and costumes for Pomander Walk

Outdoor auditorium with homemade scenery

should have been capable of rendering a better horse than that.

Maybe the May Day play was a comedy. I don’t know. Let’s look at that horse again.

That horse cracks me up!

I don’t mean to harp on it, but I do think you should visit the others at Sepia Saturday. AND if you’d like to join us, I can pull a few strings.

© 2015, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Sepia Saturday: Children in the Shadows

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday photo of children in the dark inspired me to take another look at this old photo.

John Jr. and boys 1920 related to Sheehan and Killeen families of New York
Center: John Jr. 1920
Once again, I am agonizing over the identities of distant relatives in New York. The little boy in the center is definitely John Jr. The two older boys in the shadows are not likely John’s brothers as they are not featured in any other photos in my collection. Whether they were cousins or neighbors is impossible to determine.

Lillie Killeen and John Jr. 1920 related to Sheehan and Killeen families of New York
"John Jr. and I 1920"
Even though John Jr. has a distinct look that makes him easily recognizable, it doesn’t hurt that he was identified wearing the same outfit along with my grandaunt Lillie Killeen.

John Jr.’s head-wrap is unusual. I wonder if he had some kind of surgery. Almost as strange is Lillie’s colonial mop cap. Does any of this help explain why they posed at a sign that seems to warn them of “Danger”?

From the number of photos of Lillie with John Jr. and his sister, it is apparent that she was close to John Jr.’s parents. But who were they? I only wish I knew who John SR. might have been. Then maybe I could sort out the families of the sisters of my great-grandmother Mary Theresa Sheehan Killeen Walsh. 

So, like the prompt photo, I too am in the dark.

There are more stories and old photos at Sepia Saturday. Don’t YOU be left in the dark!

© 2015, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Sepia Saturday: Ugly People

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday commemorates 300 weeks of sharing old photos and stories by recalling the photo that got this group started. While there is no shortage of photos of ugly people in my collection, I decided to follow the prompt even more closely by recalling the photo I posted on my very first blog back in August 2011. Partly because I’m lazy, partly because there is nothing new to say, and partly because it was so darn good the first time, I am simply repeating the story (with a few minor edits) from the post that got my blog started:

Jollett Family Portrait
Standing: My great-grandmother Mary Frances Jollett Davis, Sallie Jollett Clift,
Victoria Jollett Breeden, Laura Jollett Knight
Seated: Emma Jollett Coleman, Ulysses Jollett, Laura Jollett Sullivan

For years, this Jollett family portrait hung above the piano in my parents’ living room. My great-aunt Violetta Davis Ryan had several copies made from a little photo, and everyone who shared her pride in the Jolletts got one. As children, my sister and I heard stories of the Jolletts during every visit with our relatives in Harrisonburg and Shenandoah, Virginia. To children’s ears the Jollett family seemed like characters in a storybook, so mysterious and out of reach. Naturally we willingly adopted Jollett Pride as our own.

Then baby sister’s boyfriend came a’callin’ and snapped us into reality. He entered the living room, took one look at that gold-framed family treasure and said, “Who are all those ugly people?”

Until then, we probably never noticed the glum expressions and the general absence of beauty among the sisters. As my sassy sister noted, “They probably didn’t have Mary Kay.” 

I used to think the Jollett girls and brother were old in this picture. Now I realize they were YOUNG. They were in their 30s-40s, maybe. If that’s a wedding ring on Vic’s hand, the photo was taken after 1902.  The clothing appears to be 1910’s style. Mary Frances’ brother Ulysses died in 1931 at age 44, so that helps date this photo as well. 

Now HERE they are in their late 50s and 60s.

Jollett Reunion probably 1934
Standing: James Mitchell Knight, Sallie J. Clift, Leanna J. Knight, 
Walter Davis, Mary Frances J. Davis, Decatur Breeden, 
Victoria J. Breeden, Laura J. Sullivan, Will Sullivan
Seated:  Jack Coleman, Emma J. Coleman
This photo was taken at a family reunion probably 1934 or earlier. My handsome great-grandfather looks healthy, but he died in October 1934.

Please visit Sepia Saturday to read more of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

© 2015, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Sepia Saturday: The Cutout

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt is an ad for medicine in the form of a paper doll cutout. Had my parents owned a camera, they might have snapped many delightful photos of me at play with my paper dolls. Cutting out all the clothes, carefully edging my way around the tabs to ensure a good fit later on, was as much a part of the paper doll experience as the imaginative play that followed. In fact, the perforated punch-out version of paper dolls seemed like a dumbing-down of one of my favorite past times. But alas, there are no photos of me at play.

Thinking about “cutouts” reminded me of a puzzling photo in an album that belonged to my grandaunt Helen Killeen Parker. It’s such a lovely picture. I imagine that if Renoir and Monet had a baby, it might look like this.

Unknown woman in a boat about 1918-1920 album of Helen Killeen Parker
from album of Helen Killeen Parker
about 1918-1920

But notice the black triangle. That’s a deliberate CUT, not a weakened corner of an old photo tossed carelessly into a box, not a portion that has gone missing after years of being folded and unfolded.

Somebody has been cut out of that picture. Is that a shoulder and arm, the remnants of some man, behind this lovely woman? If this were Helen – but it’s not – I would guess the man was an ex-boyfriend. Isn’t that what we do – draw glasses and ugly moustaches on their faces before ultimately just cutting them out?

Please visit my fellow cut-ups at Sepia Saturday to see what they have come up with. It’s sure to cure what ails ya.

© 2015, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.