Friday, August 22, 2008

Who Are These People?

No, this isn't a blog about Seinfeld.

My Aunt Mildred died a couple months ago, and her daughter sent some old pictures to my mom that my aunt had in her possession. I told my mom it might be a good idea if I scanned them and saved them on a disc for her in case the originals got lost or damaged. She agreed and gave me the photos, which I searched through to make sure I knew who everyone was (I wanted to add captions to the photos as well). Most of the people I recognized as very young versions of family members, but I came across one shot that made no sense to me. Here it is:

This was taken at an old beach resort on the Eastern Shore of Maryland called Betterton. The town still exists, but it is no longer a resort. Once upon a time, before there was a Bay Bridge for automobile traffic to cross the Chesapeake Bay, people from Baltimore would take a steam ship to this sleepy town to escape the summer heat. After the Bay Bridge was built, people drove to the larger Ocean City and the resort business of Betterton died off. Anyway, here was this picture amid all the family photos with two guys clowning for the camera. Now, I believe the chubby man on the far right is my grandmother's father, Fred Frampton, and the woman next to him, partially obscured by the two goofy guys, is my Aunt Mildred. But why did we have a photo of these two unknown characters.

"Who are these guys?" I asked my mother.

"Oh, I think they were friends of my grandfather," my mom replied.

I accepted that answer as the best I could get, but days later, when I set about scanning and photoshopping all the pictures my mom gave me, I couldn't help but ponder this particular one. What were these guys' backgrounds? What did they do for a living? How did they know Fred Frampton? Who's the little boy next to them, laughing at their antics? Is that little boy still alive? I'm not exactly sure when this photo was taken, but I'm guessing the 30s, based upon the clothes and the general look of things in the photo.

Old photos fascinate me. The original intent of the person taking the photograph was undoubtedly to capture the friend or family member in the middle of the shot, but as time goes by, the really interesting parts of a photo are all the little details in the background. When you look at this photo, just seeing the signage and that gasoline pump in the background, you know this is from a much older era. The world doesn't look like that anymore.

And I love how people dressed back then. Given the fact that this is Maryland in the summer, it has to be at least 80 degrees there, but the men are wearing long pants, hard shoes, and hats. Granted, everything is light colored and probably cotton, but nowadays everyone would be wearing shorts, T-shirts, and sneakers or sandals. And those folks didn't have a nice air-conditioned room to go back to. They had to stay in the creaky barn of a place they called the Betterton Hotel. I stayed there once or twice as a little kid during the waning days of the resort, and it felt like living in a haunted house. The place was so remote, the room was completely black at night when you turned the lights out. I would fixate on the tiny spear of light seeping through the old-fashioned keyhole from the hallway. It was a lifeline of safety until I finally fell asleep.

But getting back to the two jokers in the picture, I guess they will be a family mystery. They look like they may have been fun to have around, or maybe they were insufferable attention-grabbers who thought more of their humor than everyone else did. Who knows? The past is so permanently closed to us.

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