Tuesday, March 3, 2009

In which God shits all over my weekend plans and I discover that my ancestors hate smiling

I was all set to visit some friends in Columbia, when I got the news that my grandparents' home had been torn up by a tornado. It wasn't as bad as it could have been; there was a substantial piece of their roof missing and all the windows had been blown out. Lots of water damage in the house and debris in the yard. Their garden shed was facing the wrong way and the wind had blown the corrugated metal structure up in to the trees. An awesome sight. The craziest thing was that the second day I was there helping to clean up, my grandparents got a phone call from someone from a town about a 45 minute drive away from their home, saying that they found a picture of them in their yard. After the storm tore off their roof, it picked up one of their old family photos and carried it 30 miles away.

My grandparents were lucky compared to some others. Just two houses down, there was a giant pile of rubble where once there was a house. The people who had lived there only survived because they had retreated to a storm shelter. Walking around the neighborhood I saw an I-beam that had been bent at a 30-degree angle and thrown to the side of the street from a house that used to stand some 50 feet back. The town's only school (this is super rural Oklahoma) was ripped in half by the storm. There was a pecan orchard that had around 85% of its trees destroyed. Nut trees generally take 30 years or more to start fruiting, so the lady who owned it has had a large part of her income irrevocably ended.

Quite sad, but compared to the 15 or so people who died in a town just 5 miles up the road, even these people were better off than some.

My mom and I stayed at the house of a relative who was described as my cousin, twice removed. It took me a while to realize that this meant she was my grandmother's cousin. This lady is big in to genealogy and tracked that side of my family back to Germany by way of New Orleans. In her house she kept our family's pictures up in a hall of portraits. I learned that my grandmother was a smoking hottie back in her day and that my grandfather was a snappy dresser, though his ears make him look like a big galoot. I took pictures of the oldest pictures.

The first thing I noticed was that my ancestors were not big in to smiling. I realize that pictures took a while to take in those days and that maintaining a smile would be hard (I myself can't hold one for the five seconds it might take even now), but generally these people can't even hold a neutral face. This is Elizabetha Margareta Radmacher, who bears in my mind a striking resemblance to the woman in Grant Wood's American Gothic. Here is a face that says "We do not tolerate laughing in this house. Now finish chopping wood so your father can finish your daily beating before it's time for church."

Here is Louis Stahler and Margarete Elizabeth Offenstein. It's a bit hard to tell from the picture I took, but only Margarete is actually photographed. Louis appears to be penciled in afterwards. I can only guess that he died before they took the picture of his wife and they had to draw a portrait of his ghost. Margarete looks like she doesn't believe the picture will work.

This character is Samuel Sanders Jr. It'd be understandable to think that he was involved with the lovely Elizabetha Radmacher, but in fact he wasn't. It'd be easy to see them together, though. The frown on his face looks like it's been chiseled there since he was 4 years old. This is the face of a man who would tell you to shoot Old Yeller and then burn all of your favorite toys after you catch a cold.

This happy couple is Peter Oliver Sanders and Elizabeth Margaret Stahler. I particularly like the pose they've taken for this picture. It was on quite a few of the old portraits in the hall. I think it was supposed to suggest a supportive and loving wife in an era/area when body contact beyond a handshake would be pornographic, but to me this calls to mind a young jedi and his evil master standing behind him with hand on shoulder.

Lucinda Harrolle and William George Washington Sanders. Lucinda had it together and looked straight at the camera, but William got mixed up and stared fixedly at a tree in the background.

Samuel Sanders III and Elizabeth Gillespie. I have no idea why there should be so many Elizabeths in my family. It continues even through my generation with my older sister Sarah Elizabeth. According to babynames.com it means "God is my Oath," which seems not just a lot to squeeze in to a name but also a pretty somber message to saddle some poor baby girl with.

That's all the pictures I took. Now that I've been accepted in to a graduate program and I don't feel so paranoid about my online life damaging my future prospects I can go ahead and post up some pictures from a book of 1800's Japanese porn that I found in a used bookstore in Osaka.

Until next time

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