My father called me last Friday evening. After 89 years, my grandfather, the Rev. Phillip Lea Lord, was dead.
He died at home, slowly slipping away over three or four days. He was a man of great dignity; snowy hair still thick over piercing blue eyes, his ramrod posture bent only in recent months as he lost his sense of balance and was forced to use a walker. He was a constant figure in my childhood - the rather formal, loving but distant, deeply religious Baptist preacher who married my vivacious, energetic, tiny, lovely and affectionate grandmother in 1940. While going through boxes and drawers looking for pictures of him for the funeral service, I came across their wedding album. They had their first date in September of 1939, and were engaged in November of 1939, and spent 66 years together as my best example of an enduring, working, loving relationship. My grandmother, 90 years old and frail for the last ten years, said, "He was my everything. He always took care of me. What will I do without him?" Her memory is like Swiss cheese - parts are whole, and parts empty. She asked the same question five times in five minutes. "Was there a funeral? Was there a dinner at the church?" "Yes, Grandma, and everyone was there."
Through my childhood, I spent weeks and months at a time with my grandparents. Both of them were avid photographers, and there were pictures of us around, but where were the pictures of grandpa's twin brother, his parents and relations? Where were grandma's 6 older siblings, all those Prussian immigrant relatives? During the whole time they were both living, and especially in the last 10 years, I have asked and asked. It was as if their early life in New Jersey was a family secret, so deep I wondered if perhaps my great-grandparents were escaping something when they came here in 1906. I wondered for years if grandma was actually Jewish (probably not, it turns out - almost certainly not). I was 15 before I knew I had more cousins, children of my grandparent's siblings. I've never met any of them to this day.
So when I went looking for pictures of my grandfather,
I was stunned to discover an 18" square box filled with photos following my grandparent's lives. Why now? Why too late? I'll never know the stories locked in the black and white boxes. If they are not labeled now - and a good number are - they never will be. My grandmother doesn't remember, if she ever knew. I'm struck with a desire to track down the descendants of the people in the wedding pictures and say "Hey, I have a picture of your grandmother in 1940 - would you like a copy?" I found my father's school pictures when he was the age of my boys, my own toddler hood,
and baby pictures of my sister I'd never seen. Underneath the box, a black leather suitcase so old the leather is flaking, and inside, unlabeled pictures going easily back to the Civil War. Beautiful cartes de visite, tintypes, ferrotypes. Stern men, wide eyed babies, boys in curls and patterned hose, women in wide rustling silk skirts.
This is my grandfather's family, my legacy. And like most things in this branch of my family, a mystery.
2006-11-27 18:38:47 Emily
Thanks for sharing this, Meg. The photos make a beautiful legacy. I hope you find some answers to the mystery, and can add to your memories of your grandfather and his family.
2006-11-27 20:48:21 Meguey
Thanks, Em. There are probably a couple-three hundred photos, about evenly split between 1940-1980 and 1840-1930. I also found a box of V-mail letters, a Daily Testament that was taken to the front in 1914, and a whole learn-by-mail course in taxidermy. I never knew my grandfather studied taxidermy. Weird.