A Formal Family Portrait
This is the only formal portrait I have of my father’s family. It was taken in the early 1930s. When I was growing up, it was framed and sat in a prominent place in our house. Back then it was more a curiosity than a valuable piece of family history on my father’s side.
That’s Grandpa Renich on the right, and his second wife, Grandma Anna, in the center. He married Anna Catherine in 1918, six months after Grandma Ethel Ema died of TB. Grouped around the two of them are all but one daughter. Marie lived only 11 months. She was one of the second set of children.
The first set, Grandma Ethel’s children, are in the back row (4 of them) plus one sitting on the front row. He’s tall, to the left of Grandma Anna. The cute little guy between Grandma and Grandpa is my Uncle Waldo, the only child still living. His face reflects his delightful personality.
My eyes go quickly to my father there on the back row—above and slightly to the left of Grandma Anna. Would knowing more about Grandma Ethel help me understand my father?
From there my mind goes to the daughters—only four of them. Two from Grandma Ethel and two from Grandma Anna. What was life like for them? I know some of what it was like for the older daughters. Especially, but not only in the early years of this family’s history.
The children and parents in the portrait look well-dressed, happy, together, ordered and pleasant. I often wonder—what if I could see through the picture to the reality of everyday life? Would I be changed? Sobered? Instructed? Relieved?
Grandma Ethel’s story, told or untold, is the most illusive of all. She isn’t in the formal portrait, but she’s definitely in the picture. That’s why I’m still looking for her.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 July 2015
Renich Family Portrait from family archives