Today's photos are more from my mom's side of the family. Remember the willowly blonde from Cape Cod, my grandmother Hazel? Here are some of her school photos, which are about as Orphan Annie, Sunday comics adorable as any I've seen from the time period:
Look at those sparkling eyes and that little grin! The doubled Peter Pan collar! A stone cold cutie if there ever was one.
Do you recall much about taking school photos as a kid? I remember being herded in my elementary school classroom once a year, into the cafetorium that had been set up as a makeshift photography studio, and lining up in alphabetical order. There always seemed to be a million people in the front half of the alphabet, so I would be usually second to last, trying to visually trace which cord went to which huge light fixture and watching my classmates grimace and grin in front of the guy from Jostens (he had some weird name, I really think it might have been Mr. Smiley or Mr. Happy, like something out of a serial killer movie) with his enormous, pre-digital camera.
Which, in turn, made me wonder about what taking these photos in 1920's Cambridge, Massachusetts must have been like. My grandmother, who had a story she wrote about a temptress with "large, violet eyes" printed in the high school corner section of the local newspaper, was an extremely bookish little girl, who loved rollerskating and reading in the attic of her grandparents house on a hill overlooking the Cape. Her mother had died of pneumonia when she was nine, and she and her younger brother Charles went to live with her mother's people, while her fisherman father was out on his boat. When I was little, she would tell me about living in an old, shingled, three story house with her Grandma and Grandpa Hill, her beloved Uncle Ted, her Aunt Pinky, and their several other grown-but-still-living-at-home children. Isn't it weird, how even in a recession you don't hear much about grown children, married or not, moving back in with their parents? It's common practice in Europe for kids to end up staying in the family home and contributing to the household well into adulthood, and this arrangement seemed extremely ordinary to my grandma both then and at the time. Naming off her relatives was another time that her Yankee accent seemed to creep into her voice, so it was always interesting to hear her tell stories about Massachusetts cousins and kin.
I read several biographies of Bette Davis, in which she mentioned that her divorced mother Ruth supported the family by opening up a photography business, in which she took, among many others, all the photos for Bette's senior class. Two hours south, at much the same time period, my own grandmother would have been sitting in front of a photographer's lens, maybe in a set up like this one, smiling that close-mouthed, winning smile she features in these photos. A little gal, mostly legs and knees and tow-headed page boy hair cut at that point, never having been to Tennessee, never having dreamed she would spend most of her life a thousand miles away from the same sea she could probably hear outside the studio.
This is the most recent and close-up photo of my grandma, Hazel, in the lot of them, maybe in early high school? See how her hair's darkened a bit, and what a PRINT on that blouse! It always weirds me out to think of moments in time when anything could have happened, in the seconds and minutes and hours after a photo was taken. She might have walked out of the frame of this photo, out onto the street, and been recruited by a local department store as a clothes model, for her irregular height and good posture. Maybe she would have met a local boy that afternoon in town, and started going steady, never dating Jimmy, so never working at the bus station, and in turn never meeting my Tennessee grandad. Anything! I'm glad it turned out the way it did, so I could be here today, but sometimes I get the kind of mesmerized you do from staring too long at your own pupils in a bathroom mirror as a kid from thinking about the past as a solid, non-static point, and not as a general, vague thing that's already happened. Photography! It's like witchcraft, folks.
So! Do you have any photos in your family collection that make you think about the time and place and circumstances in which they were taken? Any great school pictures of your parents or grandparents either looking their best or worst? Let's talk!
That's all for this week, kiddos. I'll see you right back here next week for more vintage ramblings! Til then.