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Old Photographs and Little Histories

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There’s just something about antique shops and their piles of old toys. Ancient appliances that don’t make sense to us anymore. Bins full of rusted out farm tools. Stacks of dusty books. Boxes of damp-curled photographs. To me, these are the memories left behind by the generations before us. I find things that look like the things in my grandparents’ home, and things that predate even them.

I’m most particularly drawn to the photographs. They capture certain moments in time that meant something to someone at some point in time. My collection has grown tremendously since I started collecting, and one day I’ll put them all together in an album (or two).

On my latest excursion, I found a striking portrait of a woman (pictured above). Her face looks so kind, vastly different from a lot of photographs from the time period. The back of the photograph is labeled “Edna Lawrence, Ellington, NY ’98.”

So I took to Google to see if I could find out something about her:

Her full name was Edna Belle Lawrence, and she was born in 1879 to Francis Z. Lawrence and Elizabeth Wight Lawrence. She had one older brother named Wight Lawrence.

Edna went to school in Fredonia where she studied the classics, and then attended Ellington Free University from 1898-1899 and was doing post-graduate work there.

She became a teacher and taught at Frewsburg Union School in 1902.

By 1911, she had met her future husband, Thomas Dick Mack, and they married in 1913. They had two children, and eventually moved to Thomas’s hometown in the 1940’s. Their address was 1515 E. Concord Ave, Orlando, FL. (The house has unfortunately been torn down and turned into a parking lot, otherwise I would have included a picture of that.)

Edna died in 1963, and Thomas in 1970. They are buried together in Orlando.

And all of this from one little photograph that was very important to someone at some point in time. 

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Spectator Sports

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My family took a trip to New York at the end of last summer to visit some of our cousins at West Point, but we did get to spend a day in the city. I have recently decided that I could not thrive in any kind of major city, and a visit was overwhelming to say the least, but we were able to hit a few places we’d been planning on seeing, as well as see a friend who had moved there several months ago now.

We took the train from New Jersey into Pennsylvania Station and then decided that it would be an excellent idea to walk all the way to the 9/11 Memorial. After we had all begun to suffer from hanger, we figured we better eat some lunch before we started to turn on each other.

Our next stop of the day was the Museum of Modern Art (we took the subway this time), where we met up with our friend Sarah. Now, I’m a pretty big art nerd, and while I may not know all the artists’ names or the titles of their work, I just love being able to stand underneath their art and bask in the glow of their creations.

But there was something strange about this museum visit. Being in New York, the MoMA is designed to host probably hundreds if not thousands of visitors, and that day had been no exception. People from all over the world had arrived to enjoy the great works of modern artsits from Van Gogh to Picasso to Warhol.

The strange part, for me, was the presence of all of the cameras and iPhones I saw hovering in front of the eyes of the spectators. I saw people looking through their screens as they wandered from room to room, snapping pictures of the paintings. There was one man handling a full-sized iPad who was so oblivious of where he was walking that he nearly tripped over a sculpture sitting on the floor behind him as he tried to get a better shot at the one in front. I thought the security guard was going to have a conniption.

I turned a corner to find a huge crowd gathered in front of Van Gogh’s The Starry Night. I honestly did not know this painting was in this collection and let out a very audible gasp when my eyes finally found it. Everyone there was trying to shove their way to the front, fighting to get a better view – to take the best picture of it.

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I, of course, was doing many of these things, too. It became very important to me to record all of the things I was looking at. You know, so I could look at it later…

But thinking back, I wish I had just been there. Enjoyed the art work hanging there in front of me. I saw some people having very visceral reactions to particular pieces, and I did, too, I suppose. (I shed a few tears when I walked by the Klimt paintings and into the Monet collection.)

I guess it’s best to find a balance there. I don’t think recording your trips with the camera on your phone is a bad thing. But seeing SO many people wandering through this beautiful museum just looking through their phone screens and not really seeing struck a chord with me.

Next time I’m in a place like this, I’m going to do my best be there. And enjoy the moment for what it is.