Faces from the past and present

Randall Franks

Have you ever sat down and looked through your photo albums or boxes of photos and not known whose face you were looking upon? Just the other day I was looking at images from my kindergarten. You would think I would be able to name every one of those kids; I mean it was just yesterday that we were sliding down the stair banisters at the Presbyterian Church, fighting in the church playground and arguing over who got to sit with Julie Badger, my kindergarten sweetheart. Other than Julie, the rest of those kids’ names have just faded away. As I looked at photos of birthday party after birthday party, I saw so many classmates I could not even begin to remember. You would think I could easily remember when, while blindfolded, I accidentally pinned the tale on the wrong donkey. I never liked Jamie Winston much anyway. He was only invited because of diplomacy. If I left him out, then I wouldn’t get invited to his house. There would have been a crushing domino effect which could have set my second-grade social life on its ear. I often sit and peruse photo albums that feature faces of people who I do not know. The photo had or has some significance to my mother, late father, or late grandparents or another relative, so it found its way into the family collection. In my room hangs the portrait of a great, great, great grandfather that meant much to my grandmother. I will say it was not a favorite of my mother’s, as she saw this stern man whose eyes almost follow you as you enter the room. It reminded her of the haunted house paintings that scared Don Knotts and Jim Nabors to death on “The Andy Griffith Show.” It took me years of coaxing to finally get grandma to part with it and let me be its caretaker. The same is true of so many other images I have gathered through the years. I once forwarded a photo from the collection of my grandmother Allie Bunch Franks to a distant cousin via e-mail. I was hoping it may be one of her ancestors. All the information I had was that it was my grandmother’s cousin Dave Bunch, who had an affinity for building different creations inside bottles. Three were featured in the postcard. Grandma even had one that sat upon the mantle. I always remember marveling at how he could have gotten his creation inside that bottle when I peered in it as a child. I thought he must have had very small fingers to reach up in there and do that. Beside him in the photo were two girls, one younger than the other, and unfortunately paint had covered the older girl’s face years ago. From my cousin’s review, she made the educated guess that due to clothing styles, it was likely her great uncle rather than her great grandfather who shares the same name. I have recently been going through many of our family photos collecting the right shots for an upcoming book I am preparing. It is amazing how we can easily forget the names of those kids who were at our birthday parties or the cousin we seldom see. It is so important to take the time to mark your photos in pencil not pen as to the details of who, what, when, and where. Through the 60s and 70s, many film developers were kind enough to put the date of development on the photo, which helps. I think many of those new developing machines may include that info in the code it leaves on the back of the image. As I look at the fading images, it is amazing to me how older images from the 30s, 40s and 50s endure literally unchanged while those of the 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s are already fading into obscurity. It is hard to imagine birthdays and Christmases simply gone because of poor film or film development, but that is much like our memories, they will likely fade with time as well. Many now exist in the computer era, I encourage you to scan your photos from every era into a computer database. Generally, you can include information about the photo right in the file in many programs. Make several CDs of the completed photo files and disperse them to your children, grandchildren. Put a copy in your safety deposit box. Many even take the time to create little photo documentaries of the family history and their lives. Sit down and share these with your young grandchildren at the computer. The main reason is to disperse the copies to make sure that many people have them in their collections in case of a natural disaster or fire. Then you might have a better chance of rebuilding your family photos. When you consider all the time and money we spend on photos, you would think we would take the time to document the events that surround them. Whenever I go into Cracker Barrel, I look up at the large portraits hanging on the walls and wonder if only someone had taken the time to write down a little about that person and put it with the portrait if they would now be staring out at thousands of Cracker Barrel customers or on the wall of a relative who knew they had an important life. Like a newspaper documents the story of a community through its coverage, a well-kept photo collection documents the story of your family’s life. Will your teenage children or grandchildren care you took the time to do this? probably not until they have children of their own, but who knows, the effort may prove beneficial to each of us as we look back later and get the benefit of knowing who is staring back at us. I am still wondering who that blonde kid with the flattop, big ears, with my birthday cake on his nose is, oh wait, that’s me.

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