Monday, November 7, 2011

Hold It Together

I know. 
I do it a lot.
 I like to interpret body language 
and a person's countenance in pictures. 

1949 ~ Agnes Peterson, formerly Carlson
With son Ray, and grandsons, Howard and Paul Carlson

My take on a person in the photo is always enhanced and enriched by what I find out about them in my research of their life. 

A picture captures a moment in time.

 But each pixel represents a part of a whole life from birth to present. 
(And some would agree that we are adding on to what we brought with us from before we were born).

When I decided to set a goal to tell the story of every person in my 4 generations of ancestors it seemed logical to start with the family I'd just been researching. But I moved things about a bit and instead of following Elsa and Christian Christopherson's little family, the ones who came from Norway, met, married and lived in Hawaii, I chose to focus on Elsa's brother, Hans Peder Rasmussen Skar, and his children. Remember how Hans and Elsa left Norway together and went to Hawaii in 1881? 

I'm starting there for two reasons: I have a photograph, and Agnes is Hans' first child.

Hans and his wife Elise had four children. Agnes, Ralph, Tillie, and Edna. The first three were born on Maui. Edna was born in Washington State.

Some facts about Agnes:
  • born in Spreckelsville, Maui, Hawaii, 27 February 1882
  • was a dressmaker when she was 17, in Olalla, Washington
  • married Carl Anders Carlson when she was 21.
  • She and Carl had been next door neighbors since they were about 5-yrs.-old.
  • Ray and Kenneth (my grandfather) Carlson were ages 5 and 3 when Carl died from appendicitis.
  • Agnes remarried a year later. Her new husband, also from Norway, was Jacob Peterson.
  • Mildred Elizabeth Jane Peterson ("Betty") was born in 1918, six years after they were married.
  • Patricia Peterson was born in 1925, seven years after Betty.

    Okay. Back to the photo.

    I wonder what you see when you look at Agnes, age 67? I notice her eyes, her mouth, and the way she holds her hands. She seems very controlled. She's not closed, protecting herself. She's politely grinning, not smiling. 

    What do I think affected her to pose like that in this picture? Obviously it took her lifetime to take this picture. You know what I mean? Every experience she'd ever had shows in this picture. I was shocked after comparing the facts I'd found on documents to her countenance in the picture taken three years before she died. It made total sense to see her that way.

    There are few things that people can understand unless they've experienced it themselves. We can try. But until we've "been there, done that" we can only feel sympathy, not empathy. But what we can all understand and relate to is how tragedy, loss, and suffering or stress affects a person. They change. It shows one line and one new expression and pose at a time.

    What little I have learned about Agnes has taught me about what I'm seeing in this photo. 

    Those of you who sew know what skills that requires if you're going to be called a "dressmaker", as Agnes was. I remember needing (not wanting) to learn to sew. My girls wanted poofy, twirling dresses. So I asked some friends to teach me. 

    Never get three women together if you want to get anything accomplished! 

    They talked and laughed and I interrupted once in a while to ask a question about reading, cutting, and pinning patterns to material, how to gather the material to make a balloon sleeve, and so much more. I quickly became obsessed and soon realized I did NOT like using patterns. I skipped a  lot of steps. My handiwork showed my impatience!

    But Agnes, she must have stuck to the rules. Doesn't she look like she did? She does to me. She LOOKS like a seamstress. I think you have to have a certain calmness about you to sew with patterns. I can picture Agnes chuckling and patting my hand, asking me to move away from the machine, and fixing my mess. I'd go make her some cocoa, and she's say, "Oh, thank you Dear." Don't you think? 

    Suddenly and unexpectedly, her first husband, Carl, is gone, leaving her a widow with two young children when she was just 26-yrs.-old..

    Hold it together, Agnes. Learn to put the face on.

    Her little girl, Betty, shows up as almost 2-yrs.-old in the 1920 census, but she is nowhere to be found after that even though I can find her other siblings and parents. No death record to be found either. Wherever she went, she wasn't with her mom. And her mom wasn't with her.

    Hold on tighter, Agnes. You have other children and a husband. Don't close yourself off entirely. Your hands won't hang by your side, or be clasped behind your back showing vulnerability anymore. But close your hands tightly. Hang on to what you have. But no more.

    Her face bespeaks serenity, acceptance. I don't see worry lines between her brows. Her eyes seem a bit tired. But they're still lit. I can see some light in them. But there's a hint of loneliness and resignation in them.

    You see life differently don't you, Agnes? But you still see value in it and the people you share it with. You know what's important. Don't you? You don't stress about much outwardly. 

    So my personal assessment of Agnes and how I think life treated her, or better yet, how it appears AGNES felt life treated her? I think she played well the cards she was dealt. I think she rolled with the punches. But there was definitely a cost. The return on her investment and engagement in life looks like humility. 

    That's what I learned from my paternal great grandmother, Agnes Helen Skar, aka Agnes Carlson, and Agnes Peterson. I consider her a very good role model, mentor, and friend.

    (I may be wrong about Agnes. I don't think so. And this is my blog, so I can say whatever I want!)

    Don't you love how a picture of someone affects how you "see" and understand them?


    1. Very observant, but will also add other than the kids they are not standing too close to each other either. Hmmmm.......where's the love.

      If you notice in a lot of old pictures people aren't smiling which was somewhat more the norm I think. I also know, some of these people lived pretty hard lives; it was a whole different ballgame.

      My grandfather Dorman died when I was 5. I have an uncle who had a camera and used to film a lot of family gatherings. He put all these on disc and I have about a 2-3 minute clip of my grandfather and grandmother (who lived to be 102) together. I'm in the pic too and probably less than two years old.......priceless.....

      I don't know why I included that; I guess because I was thinking of old and remembering all of their pictures (where there wasn't a lot of smiling).

    2. Hi Bill,
      I thought the man in the picture was her husband, too. But it's her son! You are so lucky to have that pic with your grandparents! When I look at photos of my grandmother holding our babies (she got to hold all but the last 3) it's priceless, as you said!
      You know maybe they weren't as open to picture-taking in their generation as more recent generations are? Good point!


    What do you think? I'd love to know.