Relativity

Old family picture.

I and my cousin as babies, being held by our moms, with our great-grandma in the middle, our grandma in the back left, and my paternal grandma in the back right.

My almost-twin cousin spent an incredible amount of time a couple years ago going through all of our grandmother’s photo albums. She scanned in every picture, transcribed notes on the photos or on the album pages themselves. She tried to track down people who could identify unnamed people in pictures, and so on. She burned discs with all the pictures and sent one to everyone in the family for a Christmas present.

She separated the photos into folders according to the surnames of the people in the pictures. About a month later she called and asked if I wanted the pile of physical photos she’d grouped as “the Breshearses.” I said, sure.

I can’t imagine how much time it must have taken for my cousin to do all the scanning and categorizing. It took me an incredibly long time to just browse through them all.

The one I include at the top of the post is not one I wound up with a hard copy of. The picture, as you can see in the scan, suffers from several kinds of damage and degradation. But it’s one of my favorites for an odd reason.

Every person in that picture is related to me by blood. But not everyone in the picture is related to each other. My paternal grandmother, the woman in the top row, on the right, isn’t related by blood to anyone else in the picture except me, the baby in the front on the right.

I’ve seen many four-generation and five-generation portraits over the years, and usually they depict a single line. There’s another one with my cousin in it on the disc, but my cousin is one of the adults. It’s her, holding her baby daughter, with her mother slightly behind her on one side, her mother’s biological father on the other, and then a photoshopped face of our Great-grandma Woods (the biological grandfather’s mother), who was still alive at the time the photo was taken, but had been bedridden and unable to travel for a very long time. So that picture had a baby, the baby’s mother, grandmother, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandmother. It’s a single bloodline of relatives. The spouses of each of those generations and all in-laws are off screen, as it were.

But this one, while harkening to that notion (though only four generations, rather than five), breaks that usual rule: one of the in-laws is included. Of course, it breaks another rule. There are two babies, and we’re not siblings. My cousin and I were born 8 days apart, and because our moms lived near each other, and we were often being babysat together as babies, people would ask if we were twins.

Another thing I like about the picture is that my paternal grandmother isn’t just smiling, she looks like she was laughing a moment or two before the picture was snapped. Which is a very uncommon thing among the pictures I have of her. My maternal grandma was caught on film smiling, grinning, laughing, and so on all the time. Same with great-grandma. But not Grandma B. It’s nice to see her smiling.

If I’m going to talk about facial expressions, I have to point out that I’m the only person in the picture with an apprehensive expression. Of course, I’m only about six months old, so who knows what I was thinking or feeling at the time.

It also occurs to me that I’m the only person in the picture with a Y-chromosome. I’m not sure who actually took the photograph. It could be any number of family members or friends. Depending on who it is behind the camera, it’s possible I was the only boy in the room.

I should get back to my original thesis. The picture includes four generations of family. Not everyone in the picture is related by blood to everyone else in the picture, but everyone is related by blood to at least one other person pictured. And whether in-laws or blood relations, all of the adults depicted considered everyone else in the picture family.

And it isn’t because they all loved each other. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Grandma B at best tolerated her daughter-in-law, my Mom. On more than one occasion she didn’t just pressure Dad to get a divorce, she hired the divorce attorney and set Dad up with an appointment before telling him. She and Grandma P never really got along, either. Oddly enough, though, Grandma B had a fond relationship with Great-grandma, who was neither her mother nor her mother-in-law. I never quite understood how Grandma B could despise Mom, and certainly not think highly of Grandma P, but had such genuine affection for Great-grandma I. Particularly given how incredibly similar in personality Mom and Great-grandma I were.

Which isn’t to say that love didn’t play into it. They didn’t all love each other, but all of them loved someone else that the other also loved. And sometimes that’s enough.

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About fontfolly

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. I write fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and nonfiction. I publish an anthropomorphic sci-fi/space opera literary fanzine. I attend and work on the staff for several anthropormorphics, anime, and science fiction conventions. I live in Seattle with my wonderful husband, still completely amazed that he puts up with me at all.

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  1. Cousins, part 3 | Font Folly - July 3, 2014

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