Saturday, May 11, 2013

Grandma’s Portrait

One of my favorite stories about my Mom’s Mom was about the time a travelling photographer took her picture. She was a young farmer’s wife and every penny had to count. My grandfather worked hard for the money and my grandma stretched it to meet their needs. He ran the farm by day and worked the coal mines at night to keep clothes on the kids and food on the table. Grandma made money by selling butter and eggs.
The photographer persuaded my grandmother to change into a nice outfit, saying, “I will take your picture and be back around in several weeks. If you like it, you can purchase it, but if you don’t like it for any reason, you don’t have to buy it.
Grandma came back downstairs wearing a white blouse and a velvet jacket. The throat of the blouse was secured with a gold and pearl pin. The photographer set up his camera and snapped the photograph. He said “Thank you. I will be back to show you the finished product.” The film needed to be processed and developed back at the company’s lab. Grandma forgot all about it, secure in the knowledge she could refuse to buy it and not have to spend any of their hard earned money for something as frivolous as a photograph.
Several weeks after, the young photographer was back. He showed my grandmother her picture in a wooden oval frame. She saw a beautiful young woman looking back at her. The black and white photograph had been hand touched. She looked splendid with the pearl pin prominent at her throat. The back ground had been colored to a dark sepia color. Making her raven black hair curled on her head more distinct. The artist had added blush to her cheeks and rose to her lips. The irises of her eyes had been tinted a pale blue. The picture was impressive, but money was always tight on a farm when you had a lot of children.
“No thank you. “my grandmother replied when the young man quoted the price.
The photographer never batted an eye. He took back the photo and frame. As he was wrapping it up to put it away, he said, “The photographs that I don’t sell to the customer, we offer to saloons. They buy these pictures of lovely young women and hang them on the wall behind the bar for their customers to look at.
What he was saying was completely absurd. The photos that hung there were more risqué, more titillating, more vampy showing more flesh, But to a naïve farm girl she was afraid of what he was saying. She didn’t want some drunks leering at her picture. She felt as though she would be violated.
“Wait a minute. How much did you say it cost?”
The photographer repeated the price.
Grandma thought for a few seconds then said, “Wait a minute.”
She went to get the price from her egg money to pay the man. The photographer knew that these farmer’s wives were frugal and he had developed a sales pitch that most often worked and that is why I have her photograph hanging on my entryway wall.

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