Thursday, 13 August 2015

Homage to a Grandmother

I recently had the chance to get together with a cousin I hadn't seen for a really long time and he presented us with photos from long ago and not so far away. The pictures were taken between the 1920s and 1960s and I have spent a few days pouring through them and scanning them and am absolutely amazed at what modern day scanners can do to enlarge tiny old, torn photos from the past.

I was particularly fascinated by images from the 1920s of relatives and young folks out on momentous occasions. Some of the photos had pictures of my grandmother, who has always been a bit of an enigma to me. My grandmother Ella Rehor Sterba died when I was quite young, so all I remember (I think) is a sort of large warm body. Interestingly enough the a web search turns up her social security number and the site thinks she died in 1979 (and I would remember her if she had died that recently) which makes me think someone was committing fraud with her number!

I have often tried to figure out over the years what my grandmother must have really been like. I searched for little clues here and there, and stock piled memories. She was, my father told me, a fierce and competitive table tennis player, for example.  My mother painted a wonderful portrait of Ella and my Dad hung it near his desk. I remember asking him if he still missed her and of course he said he did. Now I miss my father in that same way with that dull ache that doesn't really ever go away and I have a photo of him near where I work.

I looked at the behaviors and expressions of relatives in these images and tried to put together a character profile for Ella. Taking my dad and aunt as examples, I decided she might be impish at times and have a great smile that would bring her eyes down to tiny little happy slits. I decided she might be a bit severe and serious in nature and that she probably knew how to put up with a lot of guff from my grandfather, but that she brooked as little nonsense as possible.

I knew nothing about her, but the magical internet has informed me that she had a sister Irene Rehor who was one year younger than she and the census mentions her mother, Mary or Francis and father Anton(?) Rehor. The records are confusing. Ella is listed as head of household at the age of 8 in the 1920 census. Mary (who was 30) is listed as wife and there is no man connected with the census entry. Ella married my grandfather Ludwick, (spelled all kinds of ways in the records), a man who had a slew of sisters, Bessie, Mary, Anna, Emily and Milada (known as Mildred). I have my work cut out for me trying to identify all those sisters in the photos newly received.

Anyway, I wanted to put up an enlargement of  one of the photos, so you could see what you might tease out about my grandmother. Interestingly enough many of the photos were shot at the beach or on outings.  I assume this is Irene, Mary and Ella below.

In the group shots, my grandfather is usually hidden somewhere in the background. I take it he was shy. He is also usually a few feet away from my grandmother. 


Others in their party (in other photos) have flutes or mini banjos or ukuleles, but my grandfather is not the guy on the hay ride snapped with a mouth full of hay or the guy jauntily holding a wooden flute, he sits there looking slyly at the camera or glancing over at my grandmother. Did you see him right in the middle back of the shot above? Here is a close up.

I think that is Ella smiling on the left. That is as happy and carefree as I have ever seen her. You can see that her sister (probably to her right behind the extroverted guy with the big genial grin) had the looks and a glowing personality. She grins as if she knows it. In photos of the two of them, Irene smiles confidently and Ella looks more stern and humorless. Irene wears fur and fancy duds, playing coyly to the camera while my grandmother looks straight into the lense demanding there be no nonsense.

Perhaps part of it is the strain of wanting to stay still for the snap shot, but that seriousness shows up in many of her photos.

This looks like my grandmother, but from the dress I almost think it must be her mother, as the clothing is too old fashioned for a young girl of the 20s to want to wear!

Here is my favorite shot of the sisters wearing hats that tell you all about the differences in personality. Irene's is big and flamboyant, while Ella likes more modest, finer things.

So what can you discern from these pictures? Who was Ella Rehor and what was she really like?

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