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