Old Photos: 1930s

Agnes Young 12 yrs

Agnes Young (c. 1933)

Child Bride, my second book, begins each chapter with an old photo, or in one case a painting. I wanted it to be an album of memories, stories and photos that together tell the story of my parents’ marriage that focuses on the early years, the 1930s and 1940s. I grew up hearing stories of those years. My dad was highly verbal, with a deep sense of drama. My mother was quiet, a great listener who enjoyed my dad’s stories of the early years of their marriage as much as I did. Writing my first book, The Gift of Laughter, which is about my father’s family, I began to rebel a bit. I began to resent Dad’s dominance, began to resent Mom’s always being in the background, Dad in the foreground. I decided it was time to tell their story with Mom in the foreground instead. I wanted Mom to be the protagonist of their story. Dad would thus become the antagonist–not in the sense of the bad guy, but the one who was the source of conflict and trouble.

There was a problem, though. How do you bring a quiet person into the foreground when the other major character keeps trying to grab hold of the story?  One strategy I decided on was to use photos–every one the few taken during the first part of her life plus a couple taken in her later years that captured the mother I knew. Below are the only three I have that were taken in the 1930s.

The photo at the top of this page is the earliest picture I have of Mom. She is about twelve years old. It was taken about two years before she met my father in November 1935. Two months later they married. My mother was fourteen when the wedding took place. I love this photo. Mom looks so sweet, so innocent–yet there is a hint of mischief in that slight smile, a hint perhaps of a readiness for adventure that would lead to her saying Yes to my father’s proposal to run away and get married when she was in the middle of her freshman year of high school. This is the only picture I have of my mother taken when she was a child. The original is tiny, one and quarter by two inches. It looks like a school photo. The only other photo I have of her when she was still Agnes Young is another school photo, this one taken at her eighth grade graduation.

Image (48)

Live Oak Elementary School, Lodi, California (1935)

My mother is seated at the end of the bench on the right. Mom said that the dark haired girl next to her and the pretty girl second from the left end of the bench were cousins. They were Greek, recent immigrants. She said that on their first day in class they brought wine to drink with their lunch, and the teacher had to tell them that was not allowed in American schools. They look older than the other girls, probably were.

Mom had just turned fourteen when her graduation photo was taken. The photo below was snapped when she was seventeen, about ten months after I was born.

Jacob & Agnes

Jacob & Agnes Willems 1938

This photo, too, started out life as a small photo, a two and half by three inch snapshot that was bent and creased. It is not a good shot, but it still gives a sense of what my mother and father looked like at the time. It is the only photo I have of them early in their marriage so it has become in effect their wedding photo. It’s all that I have. This photo and the earlier two have become my icons.

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