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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 4, 2001

Old photos need homes

By Craig Wilson
USA Today

Like most first apartments, mine was furnished with hand-me-downs from home. The peg-legged sofa, the matching chair, the kitchen table all came from either my parents' basement or my grandmother's attic.

Among this hodgepodge of tall lamps and low-end tables was a large photograph of a woman, an ancestor perhaps, although no one in my immediate family knew who she was or where she had come from.

She was in a rather lovely gold frame, however, and since I had nothing but ski posters to tack to the wall, I took her with me and hung her over the fireplace.

She was a stern-looking woman of indeterminate age, but there was something about her stare that said she had a story to tell.

For lack of a better name, I called her Ida, and not a day passed that I didn't look at her and ask who she was.

Finally, when my interior design budget increased, I removed her from her prominent position and put her in the closet, her story still untold.

In truth, I put her away because she was making me melancholy. Old photographs have that effect on me.

Not old photos of people I know something about – like my ancestors. I know them, their names, the stories of their lives.

It's the faces of the abandoned, staring out from brown and faded photographs, that make me sad.

I was in an antique shop the other day, looking for nothing in particular, when I came upon a box of old photographs, priced to sell. I sat down to thumb through the pile and ended up doing what I always do – studying their faces, asking them to tell me their stories.

There was a row of turn-of-the-century dandies in pleated pants and bow ties. One of them, the biggest one with the grandest mustache, appeared to be the ringleader, rallying his troops.

There were women in white dresses and big hats, sitting under an arbor long since gone.

But through their silent stares, they speak volumes. "I was here!" I hear them saying. "I have a story to tell!"

They had husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, dreams and disappointments. They went to work and they went to war.

And they should be home with their families now, in frames and albums on a living-room shelf.

They deserve better than a cardboard box and a stranger's glance, their lives worth more than 50 cents a frame.