I came across an old photo I’ve been saving over the years, a photo from 1917. Pictured is my grandmother (Mabel), surrounded by her three children, Ronald (8), Barbara (4 1/2) and Kenneth (1).
I know quite a bit about the lives of these three through the words of my mother, who happens to be the little girl Barbara in the photo below
Mom as a little girl looks awfully sweet to me. I hardly recognize her with long hair and those wonderful shoes! Later, my mother was serious and academic. There was little humor in our home and often financial worries and moral and political issues to debate. I love seeing her as a happy child here. Her older brother Ronald looks gentle and content in his sailor suit, while baby Kenneth resembles the thoughtful quiet person he became.
But photos don’t always tell the truth. Ronald was not gentle or content. He ran away from home very early. He was a complex opinionated being, a geographer, a prolific author, a man who worked for the military, who defended Mexicans in court because he understood Spanish, who was a ski rescuer, a geology professor and a man who always remembered his nephew and nieces on special occasions.
Kenneth was always the quiet agreeable one. Or was he? He always said yes when asked by his mother to do something…but he seldom followed through. He did not want arguments. He went to jail for his opinions as a pacifist, then eventually was permitted to work in hospitals instead. He married in his 40s. He too wrote a great deal, for the Society of Friends.
And then there was Barbara, the middle child. Barbara did well in school and skipped several grades. She was always insecure because of that however. She loved nice clothes…but never had money for them. She was forced to wear black stockings as a child, which she hated.
She attended good schools, but not those of her choosing. Her mother wanted her to attend more prestigious ones. In the end, mother left the graduate program and married a handsome Frenchman in uniform. The war split them apart for several years, but my father came at last to the USA and began his long career as a professor of French literature. After the Korean War, my Mother became a professor of Art History. Their lives were not easy…but I suspect few people have easy lives! Photos can capture a moment, but they certainly can’t capture a life.