This mystery photograph was passed around at a family reunion I attended this summer. No one there could positively identify anyone in the picture (that was found in my great aunt’s photo album) but I haven’t been able to take my eyes off of it.
The first, and most notable thing that strikes me is that the small boy in the foreground seems to be smoking a cigarette like all the men (the one on the left probably has one between the fingers of his left hand, and the one leaning against the wall may be holding one to his lips). The second thing is that they’re all wearing newsboy caps…maybe it’s a fashion statement, or maybe that’s what was on sale at the five and dime, we will probably never know. But besides the obvious, there is so much more to be divined here.
Based on my family history, this photograph was most likely taken in Oklahoma, probably in the 1940’s – during the Great Depression and the worst of the dust bowl days. I’m sure there were serious issues being dealt with on a daily basis, like having enough food and water, and finding jobs; and while there may be an ounce of sadness here, I don’t see defeat.
I see grit and sincerity. There is a sense of family and purpose. I see community, and faith and ingenuity. I also see pride and joy and love. These are salt of the earth folks and they have pride in their country and faith in mankind. They take care of each other and do the right thing more often than not. The women are probably in the kitchen fixin’ a pot of pinto beans and cornbread for dinner and they all go to church on Sunday morning.
These men work hard and take their responsibilities seriously, but they know how to laugh, even on the toughest of days. They are handsome and strong. This boy has a place in the family, and even though he’s young, he matters and is cared for and loved. He helps where he can and does what his mama says most of the time.
I may not know for sure who these men are, and I don’t know what they’re working on here – in what looks to be someone’s front yard – but I believe that they care and that they can be trusted. They will survive and thrive and be successful. They will fight in wars and marry their sweethearts and grow their families. They will provide for their wives and children, and say their prayers. They will be knocked down and they will get back up. They will do the best they can with what they have and they will help their neighbors because that’s what you do.
These are my kinfolk, y’all.