Almost Happy

Don't make me laugh.
Don’t make me laugh.

And here we have it, friends, the beginning of the end of dour photographic portraiture. It’s only one more sly remark from the son on the lower left that will get her sister to finally break. Mother and father are doing their best to take things seriously, but it’s just not in their natures to get worked up about things.

I imagine the father works as publisher of the small town paper (and is much admired for his fairness) in the snowy upstate part of New York. He met his wife at a cousin’s graduation picnic and they immediately hit it off–marrying the following spring in the pretty Baptist church on the hill.

While wifey wouldn’t mind the vote she prides herself on having the smartest and most mannerly children in town who hardly ever complain about chores. She likes corsets because they accentuate her shape. While her husband provides her with many modern conveniences she’s never bored with “free time.” She does read the occasional novel but mostly helps at the church when not gardening.

The children actually don’t find their parents stupid. They respect their father and admire their mother hoping in the back of their minds to have marriages just like theirs. The boy will go off to the First World War and come back a hero, marrying his high school sweetheart. The girl at the time of this photo already has a crush on the new young apprentice her father has recently hired and will marry him soon enough, move next door to her mother and have many happy times gossiping over the fence while hanging laundry and watching her children play.

7 responses to “Almost Happy”

  1. It’s interesting how these old pictures almost always have people so serious-faced. I remember reading that they had to stay perfectly still for several seconds for the picture to come out right. But it leaves us with hundreds of years of pictures where hardly anyone smiled. We do get a little smirk from the guy above anyway. :-)\


    • I love this pic because three out of the four look just on the verge of smiling–it’s as if they were such decent happy people it was hard to suppress it. It hints at how people haven’t really changed–only technology has.

      Hope you’re well,


  2. Odd pic due to the slight smiles. I read an article saying how a smile was frowned upon for cultural reasons rather than technical. The South went into poverty after the Civil War, so they look rather rich in comparison to the pics down here. I would have graded him with a more lucrative job.


    • I found this photo at a garage sale right here in upstate NY so I agree they don’t look southern. I think if the man had too lucrative of a job he wouldn’t look as laid back as he does. 🙂

      I think more people back then admired seriousness.


  3. What a wonderful story and yes, they almost look happy. I understand that’s how they were told to pose back then – no ‘Smile” or “Say Cheese.”


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