Images from the Past

I mentioned the hardier Americans of more than a century ago in the preceding post. I had in mind my own grandparents and the members of their generation and socioeconomic class. They grew up in hard-scrabble times and never rose far above them. But they were a tough lot who would be appalled by the whiny Boomers and later generations who are ashamed of their own race and cringe in fear at the sight of a maskless person.

Here are my maternal grandparents in 1935, as the Great Depression dragged on. He was a caretaker at a resort in Michigan; she raised 10 children and lived to the age of 96. His body gave out at age 64, and he was buried on the day of my birth.

They were 59 and 55 when the photograph was taken. I inherited his hairline and nose and their hair pigmentation. (At the age of 80, my hair still isn’t completely gray.)

Here is my maternal grandfather with six of his seven sons, also in 1935. (All seven served in the armed forces, six of them during World War II.) All of his and my grandmother’s children lived to adulthood, with an aunt making it to 96 and my mother to 99.

Below is my paternal grandfather in 1917, with my father in his arms. My grandfather was a laborer all of his life and died at the age of 57 in a construction accident. His two wives bore him 13 children, of whom 12 survived to adulthood and three are still living. The house is typical of what he could afford on a laborer’s wages. The front door is probably open to provide “air conditioning” because the photo was taken in late August — a hot and humid time in the part of Michigan where he lived.

Despite my grandfather’s meager income and the cost of supporting a large family, thrift and hard work enabled him to buy farm property on which his second wife (and mother of 10 of his children) lived to the age of 97. The property is still in the family, and some of his children and their descendants have homes there.

Below is my paternal grandmother (left) with her younger sister, about 1919. The unpainted house in the background is probably the same shabby one glimpsed in the preceding photo. Grandmother died at the age of 25, leaving my grandfather with two surviving children; their youngest child having died at the age of 13 months. (Her grave went unmarked for 90 years until my sister and I had a headstone erected in 2015.)

I didn’t know my maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother, both of whom died before I was born. But I remember well my paternal grandfather, and especially well my maternal grandmother who lived until I was 36 years old. It is her house that is the centerpiece of one of my earliest posts: “Reveries“.

“Tough” doesn’t begin to describe the generation of my grandparents or that of their children, who became known as the “greatest generation”.

For the departed:

Time, you old gipsy man,
Will you not stay,
Put up your caravan
Just for one day?….

Last week in Babylon,
Last night in Rome,
Morning and in the crush
Under Paul’s dome;
Under Paul’s dial
You tighten your rein —
Only a moment, and off once again;
Off to some city
Now blind in the womb,
Off to another
Ere that’s in the tomb.

From Time, You Old Gipsy Man, by Ralph Hodgson (1871-1962)