Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sepia Saturday 178 # : 2013 May 25



 An intriguing prompt for this 178th Sepia Saturday. So many choices of faces speak silently to me over the years, each a tribute to a life lived long ago and giving me just a glimmer of the real person beyond the sepia. I toyed with photos of  grandfathers, Scots and German, with my earnest-eyed father at age six,  or my great great grandmother, who purportedly of Indian heritage, crossed the Oregon Trail in 1854. Finally, I settled on my first choice, a picture that has intrigued me from the moment I first found the tiny 1"x1" photo, loose and nearly lost in the fold of an old box of pictures.  The piercing dark eyes  of my grandmother Agnes Laura Sigford might indeed hypnotize a person as she seems to stare  into your soul.  My mother always said that her mother, this Agnes Laura, could stop her childhood misbehavior in its tracks from far  across any room  -- just with those eyes.  I have many pictures of this maternal grandmother of mine, but this picture of her in the cloche hat and the fur neck-piece intrigues me most of all  -- mysterious, imperious, regally aloof.

Agnes Laura's  mother, my great-grandmother, died shortly after she was born, so Agnes Laura grew up a child of the eastern Oregon hills.  She often told how she hated those stark, wind blown hills, but I believe that land tempered and tested her.  In a time and a place where books were scarce, she had a life long love affair with words and books. When she was seven years old,  her father gave her a book that she treasured,  Children's Friend.  A decade later, when she was sent away to school,  she would find another treasure of words in her Elocution book.   I don't remember  my grandmother ever reading to me, or even talking with me about books and stories -- she was too busy to be "sitting around reading".  Nevertheless, this grandmother of mine somehow transmitted to me, my own love affair with words. Perhaps it was just the reverent way she allowed me to take a book out of the glass fronted bookcase.  Or maybe a faraway look in her eye when she opened her Elocution book..  Or the anthology of poetry that she gave to my mother and from which I read, night after night, as I did dishes -- book propped up in the windowsill.  This picture of my grandmother  -- not as I remembered her, but in some magical way as I know her in words, books of stories and poems -- speaks to my heart in way that never happened when I was a child.  And my heart of hearts tells me this is how she would like to have lived and be remembered.

Agnes Laura Sigford (Keyes)


The picture of Agnes Laura when she graduated from high school in Corvallis, Oregon,  far from her eastern Oregon home outside of the small town of Mitchell, reflected her high school dreams -- lovely white dress, flowers at her feet.  She was ready to step out and meet the world.    A few years later, this daughter of a well-to-do rancher left the Keyes ranch to marry Frank Sigford, a young man from Wisconsin who had joined his brothers out west to make their fortune.


However Lady fortune never laid her bounty on the couple.  The sweet picture of my grandmother and her first born, Irene, belied the grief of losing this baby when she was not yet two years old.   Frank, her husband,  followed his dream of riches from dredging gold near Marysville, to the Pacific Northwest logging camps, to southern Oregon cattle ranches, and the subsistance on dry land farms in southern Oregon.

By the time Agnes Laura was in her mid forties, my grandmother had born seven children, five of which lived to adulthood and old age..  Her life was hard -- their lives were hard -- young children and shy on financial resources took their toll on her.  Dreams of living a life in which one talked about books, the lives, places and thoughts between the covers, fell by the wayside.  And she became the grandmother that I knew as a child-- an old woman, who plied us with homemade applesauce and bread fresh from her over.  Her only tie to the life she thought would be hers rested behind the homemade glass fronted bookcase.


Agnes Laura Keyes
High School Granduation, 1898
Agnes Laura (Keyes) Sigford and
baby Irene, 1904


Grandma Sigford (Agnes Laura Keyes) as I
remembered her when I was a child
1942, Grandma Sigford with my little sister 

These are the pictures of my grandmother on her life's journey.  As I look at this series of pictures of Agness Laura Keyes Sigford, I am held by her eyes -- to me her eyes were mesmerizing -- and sometimes a bit frightening..  And those eyes tell me to remember her as that slightly mysterious, imperious woman of her dreams. Yes, I am sure that is how she would like to be remembered.


~ ~ ~
 © Joan G. Hill, Roots'n'Leaves Publications

18 comments:

  1. Agnes Laura does have fantastic eyes. The portrait you chose of her wearing her cloche hat is striking. It has that property of sort of tracking you as you move back and forth in front of it. There's no escaping her gaze! Thanks for sharing her interesting life story in a nutshell.

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    1. Once I saw this picture, I knew that this was the woman my grandmother yearned to be. I feel so fortunate to have found this picture. --- and I tried moving back and forth and sure enough her gaze follows me.

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  2. A very thoughtful post about your grandmother. Dreams and desires unfulfilled and represented by the glass bookcase. I hope your grandmother found fulfillment in other aspects of her life, difficult as it was. A striking photograph.

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    1. I wish that she had found fulfillment and joy, but that was not the my sense of her. It has only been in the "mining" of the treasures she left behind that I have a window on her dreams and what she yearned for. And yes, such a striking photograph.

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  3. I enjoyed reading the story of Agnes Laura. I agree that there is no escaping her gaze. I also was fascinated by her eyes in the last picture (the one where she is holding your sister). In some ways I think she looks the happiest is that picture. Is it my imagination or did her gaze soften over the years?

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    1. I think you are right, she did look happy with my sister. I also thought she had a softer look in the picture of her and baby Irene. I have always liked that picture, as I dinna often see her smile. Thanks for noticing that happiness in her face -- A good thing to remember.

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  4. A wonderful remembrance of your grandmother, Joan! Yes, that is likely how she would like to be remembered. Her permission to you to take that interest in those books in the glass fronted bookcase was likely the spark that transmitted her love of words to you. What a heritage you share!

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  5. It was so very hard for women to realize their dreams, but thankfully that has changed, and will continue changing. A powerful pairing of story and images, thank you Joan.

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    1. Thanks, Brett, for the nice words. Often when I do these quick (at least for me) Sepia posts, I realize as I view pictures that there is even a larger story lurking in the photos. I like that the pictures move the story and the story gives depth to the pictures.

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  6. It's like looking at a biography through her eyes only -- watching them harden, soften; a very hard life, I think, but she certainly looks at peace with your sister! Nice post!

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    1. She did look at peace - and happy -- holding my sis. We lived several hundred miles from my grandparents home, so our visits to them were big occasions for all of us. As I remember, she spent much time cooking and baking for us -- things she did so well.

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  7. What a lovely tribute about your grandmother, and such lovely family photos to treasure!

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    1. Thanks you Kathy. I have been thinking about an even more indepth photo history of theis grandmother's life. And I am lucky to have such a wealth of pictures of her.

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    1. Thanks a bunch, my friend. Miss reading your posts and the stories about your TRIP -- and hope to resume my blogger ways.

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  9. What a fascinating post. And "the real person beyond the sepia" - I rather like that turn of phrase.

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    1. Thank you, Alan. I see we have similar tastes in the twist and turns of words. The phrase seemed so appropriate here, but I was a tad fearful that it was a bit corny.

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  10. Super tribute. It feels as if I know her as a result. Looking at the photos in reverse order was rewarding too.

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