top of page

A Picture is Worth . . .

As you’ve read in past columns, I now have access to the two missing picture boxes that comprise my life BM—Before Marriage. They contain not only pictures of my childhood, but of earlier generations, many of whom I remember only vaguely or not at all.

An example is a large, sepia-toned photo which hung on my wall for most of our Arlington years. It’s in a handsome wooden frame, nicely matted with a notation on the side, saying that the Bourgholtzer Studio of Washington, Indiana, created it.

The picture shows an elderly couple in church-going attire. The woman, in a black Victorian dress, wears glasses below white hair, parted in the middle and neatly coiffed in a bun. Her goateed companion wears a suit, vest and bow tie over a white shirt. She has a book open on the table between them and is apparently reading to him, as he listens intently.  These are my maternal Great-Grandparents.  

I learned, however, from a distant relative who actually KNEW these two that the picture is entirely misleading.  It seems that he was deaf from his career of supervising the local mine and she had gone blind from years of quilting. Despite its inaccuracy, the family chose this sweet pose to record their lives.  Maybe the feeling was they WOULD have done so if they could have. 

This made me wonder about the accuracy of other old family photos and, for that matter, what future generations will think of our pictures. Will they have ANY idea that the pleasant-looking couple shown had a quarrel in the car before arriving at the studio?  Or that the happy, multi-generational family pictured holds tensions simmering for years, and fueled by sibling rivalry, in-law drama or money squabbles? Pictures show what people were doing on the occasion, but not what they were thinking or feeling. Of course, they all look happy and presentable, but that may not be the whole story.

While I’d like to view my ancestors as real people, I prefer to believe that none of them lived inside the fears and drama that we have today. Maybe everyone really DID get along and enjoy each other’s company. Maybe none of the kids bickered or tattled. 

This Old School type likes to view them through rose-colored glasses, believing in the myth of the tight-knit, we’re-all-in-it-together family. Let’s hope future generations think the same about us, true or not.      


bottom of page