Why “Brown Bag Letter” as a name you ask? Why celebrate old photos of a day gone by? Why look at archaic snapshots of a different era? Why? Because when we do, our lives become richer, our story grows. We are challenged by their strength and tenacity, those who lived in simpler, yet dangerous times. Those who worked day and night for little income. Those who stretched to the limit for what we simply need to flip a switch to make happen. I admire your great grandparents! I appreciate life more because I hear their stories.
I was talking with a man yesterday and after telling him about this writing project, I asked him about his grandparents. Smiling and with great enthusiasm, he said, “THEY’RE DEAD!” We both chuckled. The thing is, they are and so are their memories, and so are the stories that help to make us who we are.
I was fortunate enough to have always obsessed with “The Lady in the Attic” my entire childhood and I wanted to be just like her. I would crouch down next to the antique frame, and carefully study her simply designed dress, and admire her hauntingly beautiful eyes. I made a lot of my clothes in High School and even duplicated the blouse she has on in this portrait. Eventually, my parents told me that this beautiful woman was my Great-Great-Grand-mother, Agnes McKinley. Because of her, my P-Pop insisted that we were ancestors of President McKinley, but, truly, I think that was just family folklore.
When my Mom did genealogy studies, she found out that Agnes was not only “The Lady in the Attic” but possibly, “A Lady of the Night.” We have laughed many times about our Great-Great-Grandma, the family whore. This story makes our family history a little more colorful than we had thought. Well, maybe I’ll change my mind about just like her!
My obsession with antiquity has grown, as I have gotten older. I enjoy going to auctions for treasures, some of those treasures I share with others through resale, however, many of my greatest treasure finds become my own. One day, I acquired a box of old photos at an estate auction. That night, I sat in my chair and looked through the pictures with tears rolling down my cheeks. I silently asked, “Why do I have these pictures?” “Who is this person?” Unfortunately, their family no longer found them useful or interesting. Possibly, they couldn’t identify them either, thus my winning bid for the entire box for only one dollar.
In my hands was history forgotten, which made me even more curious about my own family history. I also thought to myself that these people could be my grandmother, aunt, uncle or friend. As it turns out, I have adopted many. Some challenge me to be a better person, others make me grateful for civil rights, women’s rights on so on. Others make me angry. They make me want to stay, “Stop being such an ass!”
These are the stories of real people, in their real time, living life. The best I can ask in preserving the mixed history combining photos with stories people tell me is to help others enjoy and grow too contemplating what part of their stories live in us.
The photos and stories in Brown Bag Letter are synchronized. To preserve personal history, my hope is that the anonymous photo and story from a different family will keep the stories of our past vibrant and not these folks to fade away.
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