My Grandfather's Slides

A couple of weeks ago I praised a Facebook friend’s photographs of people, saying that they showed character। In turn, I went looking for the negatives of a portrait I had done back in the late 70s of a woman who lived in a senior citizen high-rise apartment building in the Coal Regions (always capitalized). I never found the negatives, but I did stumble onto a box of slides that my oldest sister (now deceased) had passed on to me from our father (now deceased). His father, my paternal grandfather, had taken the slides.

Because of marital separation (when I was 5) and later divorce, I never knew the paternal side of my family very well। I learned, for example, when I went to work for my local newspaper after graduating from high school that my grandfather was quite famous (locally) for his gladioli.

The box of slides confirms that। Along with six magazines well captioned there is an array of loose slides and almost every one is of a flower or a bush or a tree. I can’t be sure, but I infer from the captions he provided, he not only photographed his handiwork, but the handiwork of neighbors.

He also documented some of the trips he and my grandmother went on. Usually, they visited one of their daughters (and my aunt, one of my father’s three sisters) in Ohio and some of the photos are of the Pennsylvania and Ohio turnpikes। (I’m assuming my aunt’s husband drove and my grandfather took photos from the passenger’s seat. I don’t think he drove and photographed!)

The slides were shot between 1958 and 1962. The last magazine I scanned were of an international gladioli show in Wheeling, West Virginia. When I think of West Virginia, I think of coal, not gladioli।

For some reason, perhaps a Germanic respect for privacy or his own shyness, he did not photograph many people। Flowers, rivers, tow boats, barges—even a parking lot--are frequent subjects, but only five or six of the estimated 300 slides have people we know. My cousin, the daughter of the aunt mentioned above, has identified her mother, father, some of her brothers, our grandparents and one cousin on some of the slides. Most of those people are now deceased.

Even though the photographer is dead, the slides speak। Not only do we know what attracted his photo eye, we also know that he was meticulous in his captioning. On each slide holder, he has carefully written about the subject of the slide. (The one with several relatives, however, is merely captioned “Folks at motel.”) Each magazine is numbered, which reveals to me that I don’t have all of his slides. I have magazines 8, 17, 18, 20, 21 and 23. Conversations with two of my paternal cousins reveal that they don’t have the missing magazines. That ends this project, it seems.

But it has been interesting scanning in each slide. Almost a half century later, I learn something new about one of my grandparents, preserved through his passion for flowers and photography.