As I near the end of the collection of papers and keepsakes of Agnes Tully Stevens, I find myself lingering over those little items that really shouldn’t have been saved—particularly the photographs. These sorry scraps are just that: pieces that long ago should have been tossed. But Agnes kept them—no doubt because her parents did, in some cases—and then her son kept them. And now I am keeping them, too.
There is only one difference, though: when Agnes kept them, she knew what she was keeping. In her son’s case, he could have asked and gotten the answers about these mystery photographs; perhaps he did, but never wrote the answers down. In my case…well, I have no idea. All I’m left with is a strong desire to know who these people are. Which reminds me that I have the deepest desire to have any family pictures of these previous generations with names and faces intact.
So I linger and wonder. And hope that, by digitizing and preserving these faint likenesses, I’ve done my duty to family history and can pass these items on. To the trash can.
I had hoped that, by some Adobe Photoshop magic, I could somehow resurrect these foggy scenes. One snapshot looks like a precursor to a Polaroid that someone got impatient about processing. Others are too faded, or too fuzzy, or too tiny. But each of them has something that makes me wish—to want to know more.
Thankfully, this is one of the few photographs actually labeled. The back of the picture reads, “Agnes Tully, about 12 years.”
At one point, I had wondered if this might be a picture of the young Agnes Tully Stevens. I don’t know enough about the technology of photograph production through the years to pinpoint the decade in which this likeness was taken. But I suspect that the subject of this picture was actually her niece. Agnes’ brother William had a daughter, born in 1904, also named Agnes Tully. The younger Agnes would have been twelve in 1916, while her namesake’s twelfth birthday would have dated the photograph as taken at the turn of the century.
Polaroid Land Camera. Yet, doesn’t it look like someone got too impatient and pulled the film off its backing too soon?
The last picture captures such a joyful vignette that despite its poor quality, I can’t bring myself to toss it. It looks like a picture of two siblings, one barely a toddler. The older sibling has such an exuberant look of joy on his or her face that it brings a smile to my own—and I don’t even know who these people are, or why the youngster has such an open, happy expression. Some people just have a way of radiating joy and infusing others with that same vibrant spirit. Even though this person belongs to an age that has come and gone, I’d still love to be around this one.
So there they are: shadows of my family’s past. Nameless now thanks to those who knew all too well their identities, they remind me that the people, places and stories we now know all too clearly may not survive their own journey into the future. If they are to be remembered, it is we who must become that vehicle of remembrance.