Out of Kentucky

By on Sep 24, 2010 in Art/Photography, Essays

b&w photo of family on grassy lawn

My grandmother raised five kids herself.

My mother is the little girl on the left, and she is the only one left living from this photo. My grandmother is the one seated in the chair. The little girl on the right is my aunt, who passed away a few years ago. The little boy is my uncle, who was killed by a train many years ago. My mother says the little bows in their hair were made from bread ties. The little outfits were hand sewn by my grandmother.

To me, this is a most beautiful photo. It captures a proud mother who was also poor.

It captures innocence. It captures simplicity. It captures time and love.

My grandmother, the lady you see seated on the chair, worked for many years as a school janitor until her death. She did not have a car; she walked to the school house every day. She carried water to her home every day. She washed clothes in a tub. She went to the bathroom in an outhouse.

She never accepted welfare. She never got any government assistance.

I wanted her remembered and the heart of Kentucky remembered this way.

Proud and beautiful.

This photo was recently discovered and seen by my mother. She had never seen it before. I had recently connected with lost family members who live in Washington State. They were kind enough to send me photos that we had never seen before. We do not know who took the photo; we just know whoever it is should be recognized for capturing the spirit and beauty of the south so many years ago.

What made me take an interest in the historical information concerning my family was the increasing numbers of people who no longer have jobs, who do not know how to survive in  lower paying positions. It made me think of those who lived before us and how they survived, how they managed to make do with what they had.

That curiosity is leading me into many different directions. One of the most important directions for me? I want to educate those who have material items they “could not do without.”  I want to find a way to provide better education and opportunities for the poor. Poverty is not unlike a prison. The iron shackles of poverty bind the dreams and intelligence of those who would have been and could have been something greater. I’m proud of what my family endured for me. I don’t feel sorry for myself or my situation, no matter how harsh the circumstances, because I know I can survive, as did the generations before me. 

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Mattie Louise is on a quest of sorts: digging up family history and finding long-lost relatives. She's also involved in continuing her college education. If she graduates, she will be the first in her family to achieve a degree. Her degree will be in Criminal Justice. She writes, she paints, and she takes pictures whenever possible. She also works a blue-collar job, in corrections. She is 48 years old. She is a Kentuckian. She is Irish. She is Native American. God Bless.