We are all connected, and nothing drives that home like old photographs

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This is a detail of my great grandmother Sophronia’s class picture, c. 1888. It is a huge class, too big to see in its entirety here. Though she’s not in this part of the picture, she doesn’t have to be for me to feel its profundity.

Her classmates and teacher say so much about her life – way more than a portrait of only her would. We are all connected, and nothing drives that home like old photographs do.

I never met my great grandma Sophronia, and I know very little about her. So to discover her history, I listened to a taped set of interviews I conducted with her daughter (my grandmother) in 1997, on the occasion of her 90th birthday.

Sophronia Hannah Griner was the youngest of eight children. She was raised in Clyde, New York, in a big house across from a glass factory where her father, John, worked as a glassblower. They had a large yard, with a horse and a cow, grapevines, and a swing in the front. According to Grammy, John read the bible through twice. Sophronia’s mother, on the other hand, never went to school and couldn’t read or write.

Sophronia met her future husband, George Brooks, when he rented a room in her family’s home. They married and continued living in the Griner’s house together. Soon after, Sophronia gave birth to my grandmother in the same room of the house Sophronia had been born. ‘Isn’t that strange?,’ Grammy’s recorded voice says.

About eight years later, George abandoned the two, leaving them to fend for themselves. Sophronia would end up battling depression for the rest of her life, constantly fearful of the actions her mindset might spur.

Despite this tenuous childhood, my grandmother came to be the most even, forthcoming, forgiving, and curious human being I have ever known. She read eight nonfiction books every two weeks and in 1928 was the first family member to graduate from college.

During my adolescence, I watched her handle one of my family’s most painful problems with a directness and honesty that continues to inspire me. Grammy passed away in 2005 at age 98, but I often evoke her presence, especially when I need a better take on things, and she always delivers. ~shared by @amostouche

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