The photograph hung in my childhood home, in the hallway on the wall with all the other beautifully framed family pictures. As a girl, I would stop and look at them all, one at a time. A second copy of this particular one is part of a family photo album I inherited when my Great Aunt Edna passed away. It is starting to fade in the corners, what was grass at the edge of a garden is now a soft, grey haze, as are the porch steps in the other corner. The porch is clean and neat, painted white, the banister dark. A small wooden rocking chair sits in the back corner, by the brick wall of the house and the front door.
Sitting on the third step up is a littler girl, frizzy hair tied with a big white bow that was the style in 1919. On the step beside her sits a good sized toy elephant, soft with funny, life-like wrinkles. A favourite toy. Leaning on the step, on her left elbow, striking a jaunty pose is another, older girl, her hair longer, curly and soft, held back with another white bow. She wears a white pinafore and her white pantaloons show below the hem. Her white socks are pulled up almost to her knees and she wears dark shoes with buckles, matching those of the girl beside her. She is holding a broom, the finger of her right hand on the tip of the handle, with her smiling mouth wrapped around it. She looks sweetly, cutely, yet somewhat cockily off to the left. Heart-shaped vine leaves climb up strings tied to the railing of the porch behind her.
She is so young, so sweet, so childish. It is hard to reconcile this little girl with the woman who was 64 when I was born. This is Edna. The girl beside her is her younger sister Molly.
I imagine that Edna was supposed to be doing the chores, sweeping and whatever came next, her younger sister perhaps too young to have chores yet. Someone must have come along and staged the photograph, given Edna the break from chores that every child hopes for. And so she is playing it up for the camera, playing it for all it is worth, before she has to return to the serious business of sweeping.
Her baby sister, my grandmother, is missing from the scene. The three girls were close but, a few years later, Edna’s attitude changed, as she became the serious older sister, with no time for jokes or frivolity. “Quiet girls, we’re coming into town” she would say, shushing the other two as they giggled and skipped and made eyes at the boys. By them she had left school; it had become her responsibility to care for her siblings following their mother’s death and their father’s marriage to his second wife.
This picture captures beautifully that joyful, funny, coquettish moment in time.