Someone posted this photo on a Facebook page dedicated to my hometown of Blackstone, Massachusetts.
Along with it was an image of the back of the photo, which listed the people in the photograph.
Included in this bunch is my great grandmother, Hilda Dicks.
Can you guess which one?
She’s standing front row center. Dark hair. White dress.
I knew Hilda’s husband, my great grandfather Arthur Dicks, quite well. My grandparents lived next door to me when I was growing up, and my great grandfather lived with his son, my grandfather, until the end of his life. He sat in a chair in the back living room, offering bits of wisdom to anyone who sat beside him.
But Hilda? My great grandmother? I don’t know when she died, but I have no memory of her. In fact, I’m almost certain that this is the first time I have ever laid eyes on her.
I find old photos like this remarkable. They are like frustratingly limited time machines, capable of taking us back to singular, stationary moments in time somewhere in the past.
31,744 days ago, my great grandmother, somewhere in the middle of her life, served on the Old Home Week committee and had her photograph taken.
I wasn’t sure what Old Home Week, was, but it turns out it’s something once celebrated throughout New England. It was an effort by towns to invite former residents — usually individuals who grew up in the municipality as children and moved elsewhere in adulthood — to visit the their hometown and become reconnected with their roots.
So back on July 24, 1935, my great grandmother was working to bring back former Blackstone residents for a week of reconnection and nostalgia. According to the sign on the left side of the photo, my great grandmother’s Old Home Week was to feature a clambake, a ball game, a special serve at the church, and entertainment of some kind.
I can’t help but wonder what her day or week or life was like back then. After this photo was taken, did she go home to tell my great grandfather about the meeting? Did she gossip about the lady whose eyes are closed in the photo? Complain about the man on the far right with the smarmy grin? Did she go to dinner with committee members to celebrate a job well done? Is her position, front and center in the photo, an indication of her social standing at the time? Was she the boss lady of this committee?
Was she the smartest, hippest, best looking member of this committee, or am I simply seeing what I want to see?
I’ve stared into her eyes, trying to discern something from her gaze. Some tiny scrap of knowledge of what this particular day was like for her.
The woman responsible for me being here 31,744 days later – someone I never met – was busy living her life, unaware that a photo taken on a summer day in July would someday be scanned and posted on a digital network that her great grandson would someday discover a hundred miles away.
I wish I knew more.
I wish I had known her.
I wish she was still here so I could ask questions.
So many questions and zero answers.
I have gratitude, though. Heaps of it. Hilda raised her son, Fred, who in turn raised my father, Leslie, without whom I would not exist.
Charlie and Clara would not exist.
If I could have just a few moments with Hilda, I’d tell her that in 2022, your great grandson is alive and happy, raising a boy and a girl who you would most assuredly adore. I’d thank her for holding her family together, navigating the struggles of life well enough to raise a family that would one day yield my own.
Scientists need to stop worrying so much about flying cars and our future robot overlords and work harder on time machines.