Hey, Everlastings, I Need Your Advice
I'm obsessed by this woman's life but I only know her through photographs
OOPS, my apologies, friends. I totally missed that comments were turned off earlier to unpaid subscribers. They’re open now. I’m so sorry!
Sorry to be a pest, but I’ve been stewing over a story I’m writing, and I realized this morning that I know the perfect group who could talk me through this. YOU!
Many years ago, when my son was a student at UC Berkeley, he wandered into an antique store and found a dusty old photo album.
On the outside it looked like any old album—rectangular with a plain black cover and only the word ‘Photos’ to tell me what it was.
Oh, but inside!
It wasn’t just the pictures, it was the way this woman presented them. She was a hoot! She started the album in 1913, when she was a young girl freshly into her first job—as a stenographer at a law office in her little town in Wisconsin.
Throughout her girlhood—and remember, this was at a time when cameras were not that easy to operate—she took pictures of everything and everyone and gave them goofy, fun titles.
I’ve loved that album for a couple dozen years now, always with the idea that I would someday find out who it had belonged to, and maybe even get it back to family members who might be interested. Over the years I’ve discovered a few things about her, including a remarkable connection to a major figure in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life.
So now I want to write this story, using the photo album as an anchor for telling what I know of her life. I know who she married and I know her sons’ names after finding mentions of them through Google searches. I can only guess which one she is through older pictures in the album, but I don’t know her whole story, and I don’t know if just owning her old album entitles me to try and tell it.
Still, it’s fascinating to me and I can’t get her out of my mind. The album covers many years into her lifetime but at some point she stops drawing her clever calligraphy and stops captioning the pictures.
The exuberance of her early years has left her as she matures and takes on marriage and motherhood. I don’t know what to think and I’m not about to speculate, but I’m a storyteller and my inclination is to build a story just from these pictures alone.
So my question to you all is: should I? Am I invading a family’s privacy by revealing these pictures and telling what I know about this woman—which is, when it comes down to it, purely surface stuff?
I could write it as a piece looking for her family, knowing they probably aren’t even aware of this long-lost treasure, but I really want to tell a story. I know from at least one picture that she was anti-Suffragist at one point. What else did she believe? Who was she, really?
She is cute and fun at first, but later pictures show her as awkward and so homely I wouldn’t have recognized her if she hadn’t written her name on the pictures.
She lived a comfortable life. She traveled. She hobnobbed with friends or family members who lived in beautiful homes in California and may have even lived in one of them herself. I don’t really know the rest of her story because she stopped sharing it outside of pages of unmarked pictures. I don’t know any of the people in her later pictures. I can’t tell when the album ends but it looks like the 1940s or 50s. All of the pictures are black and white.
She died in 1977 at Lodi, California, at the age of 84. All three of her sons are dead. I couldn’t find any family members still alive.
So there you have it. If you owned this album, what would you do? Would it be yours to share publicly, or would you either work quietly to find her family or hang onto it, giving it a look every now and then?
I’m asking you because you’re all writers and juicy stories are always on our minds. How far do we go as we delve into someone else’s life, knowing they’re not around to either celebrate the attention or protest the exposure? Do her ancestors have any claims?
Thanks for any thoughts on this. Have any of you faced something like this? I want to do the right thing, but I REALLY want to tell this story the way I want to tell it.
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