Approximately 30 years ago I was thumbing through my mother’s old pictures. In a musty seafoam-green album, there was a group shot of 8th grade students. The children were posed in front of a brick school building in Vernon, Alabama. A date written on the photo showed it to be 1944.
Asking mom who the kids were she could only recall a few. She pointed out a couple of female friends including several boys.
“You always remember the good looking guys!” she laughed. My wife Joleen agreed with her.
Mom went on to say she wished she’d written down classmate names as soon as she received the photo. My mother became disciplined at labeling pictures later in life. Most of her family photographs have distinctive handwriting on back. This bit of data identifies who the people are plus photo location. She drilled it into my head to do the same.
I had my own group photo taken at Southside in Selma the schoolyear 1962 – 1963. It’s my third grade class. I remember the teacher Mrs. Wood, including two girls, Glenda Dennis and Janet Adams.
I always wondered who the other kids were and what happened to them? In trying to determine such I sent out several letters with no replies. You might say I ran into a brick wall. Understandably, former classmates no longer recognized my name.
Approximately 10 years later I had good fortune of coming in contact with Jeff Maddox. Jeff was heading up a Southside School Alumni group. He was co-sponsoring a Southside get-together in Selma each summer. We got to e-mailing back and forth discovering several things in common. Not only did Jeff attend Southside, but his father was assigned duty at Craig Air Force Base like mine.
Jeff was an accomplished writer while I was merely trudging along. We both loved and owned Harley’s. In mentioning the old photo, Jeff asked me to forward it to him. He thought it might be fun to help ‘fill in the gaps’. Evidently he saw it as a puzzle of sorts.
Jeff placed it on his online Southside website and before long started getting hits. People wrote in saying that was them, or they knew someone in the picture. In one instance he discovered a student that I recalled as being deceased.
Jeff asked me how, after so much time had passed, had I remembered two girls and no one else. Thinking back to what mom said I replied,
“I suppose fellows always remember the pretty gals.” Jeff concurred with that.
This class photo languished on his website for several years. Every so often Jeff would come up with another missing part of the puzzle. His goal was to identify ‘all’ unidentified students. At that time he was contemplating writing a book about life at Craig. I sent him bits of information including photos of the base.
Sadly, Jeff Maddox was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident July 4, 2015. His Southside alumni website is now offline, the Craig A.F.B. book unfinished, identification of students in my photo no longer sought. Thankfully Jeff completed a manuscript before his untimely death titled, “Meeting My Guardian Angel”. He gave me a signed copy.
On an extremely positive note, three classmates in my 54-year-old photograph are now ‘Facebook’ friends; Janet Adams, Glenda Dennis-Turner, and Patrick Durden. At this point the unidentified students will most likely remain nameless.
Being an antique nut, I run across photographs like that all the time in antique stores. Family portraits make up a good portion of them. It’s disheartening to see family treasures wind up as items for sale. Did children or relatives not want these mementoes? Precious heirlooms should be passed along generation to generation. To me, an important element in safeguarding photos is making sure future family members see how the older generation looked.
When mother died 6 years ago I inherited her photograph albums. They’re safely tucked away from moisture and moths. I’ve already advised the kids to find a nice dry place to store them. Paper photos are going by the wayside much like tintype and daguerreotype photographs. I’m afraid with the invention of the digital camera, ‘nameless faces’ will become the norm.
Just the other day my wife pulled out her iPhone showing friends our new granddaughter. Watching such take place did not seem the same. Proud parents and grandparents removing wrinkled photos from purses and wallets is the way I want to remember it!