Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Smile for the Camera?


Have you ever heard it said that the way a wife is treated by her husband shows up in her countenance? For years, I have studied the lone photograph of my great grandmother, Ella Mae Pate and her husband Harvey and wondered about their lives.

Striking a traditional pose, donning their Sunday best there seems to be no signs of their tumultuous relationship. There are no indications that his right hand, seen firmly gripping the wicker chair, would have ever been raised in fitful anger to strike his wife. His strong cleft chin and bright eyes make him a handsome figure with no signs of the troubles that haunted him from youth.

In the early days of photography subjects didn’t slap on a selfie-smile. Mark Twain once said, “A photograph is a most important document, and there is nothing more damning to go down to posterity than a silly, foolish smile caught and fixed together.” This philosophy, not rotten teeth or the idea that a photograph captures the soul, made photography subjects present a somber appearance.

As I studied the young face of Ella Mae Pate I see a woman taking not smiling in photographs to the extreme. Standing beside her husband with her arm perched on the back of his chair, Ella Mae’s lips are drawn tight in a determination to persevere. Her alert eyes look ready to adjust her course if need be. Still there are no bruises, no gunshot wounds, no evident signs of abuse.

Overall, the photograph of the pair looks typical for the times. The couple came together to preserve their union for posterity and I for one, am glad they did. Their posing for the camera, without their smiles, is no different than our carefully chosen, cropped snapshots we post to social media presenting our best selves possible to the world.

The truth is that although a picture is worth a thousand words, it is still a carefully crafted image to hide behind. Our inner struggles, doubts, fears can easily be hidden behind a smiling face with the world never realizing what is going on inside. My one desire with writing a memoir is for others to realize they are not alone in their interior troubles and that through the sharing of the struggles the burden may be made lighter for all.

Leave Him? is available on Amazon.

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