Here is a brace of photos that seem to me as though they were taken by my Uncle Dick (Richard David Fleagle), or at least he probably set up the shots. He’s in one of them and his shadow is in the other, cast upon the hem of his mother’s skirt. Dick was into photography — he was in charge of supply chains in the Army toward the end of World War II and found himself in possession of the two things that make a good amateur shutterbug: time on his hands and access to a surplus of high-quality cameras and film.
The first photo shows my Uncle Dick and Aunt Jean standing with his parents, my grandparents. The youngsters had just married in the spring of that same year; Jean’s maiden name is LeGall.
The other photo looks to be the “old folks with their daughters-in-law” pose. Jean is again on the right, this time next to her father-in-law. Gathered into Jennie’s right arm is Evelyn (née Goemaere), who married the family’s firstborn child and oldest son, James Lincoln Fleagle, Dick’s older brother. I don’t know why Uncle Jim is not present in these photos. Evelyn and Jim had both been married previously and each had a daughter; the girl on the far left is Evelyn’s daughter Maureen, my first cousin by marriage. The top photo has “for Sue” written on the back; Sue is Jim’s daughter by his first marriage, my first cousin by blood. Maureen and Sue were step-sisters.
I never knew my grandfather James Ezra, but my grandmother, Jennie Viola (Coffin) Fleagle, lived to be 99 years old and lived with my family during my teenage years. Uncle Dick died in January only last year (2014). Aunt Evelyn died the year before at the ripe and joyous age of 103. In January 2015, only cousin Maureen and Aunt Jean remain of this bunch.
My grandfather James Ezra is in these photos mere weeks from the end of his life, something I didn’t realize until I started writing this post. I originally assumed that the photos were taken at the Walstan Avenue house where Dick and all my dad’s other siblings grew up, but it doesn’t look much like the Walstan house, and after reflecting on the dates and the subjects here I’ve changed my mind. I now believe they were taken here in Washington State. Here’s my reasoning:
These two photos were taken on August 24, 1951. I knew, but had forgotten, that James Ezra died that same year. Another photo dated 1951 showing James Ezra on a visit to Mt. Rainier out here in Washington State notes that he lived for four weeks after returning to Baltimore. When the Mt. Rainier trip photo first occurred to me, I figured these two photos must have been taken before that trip, because the alternative seemed to be that they were taken during the last four weeks before he died. I didn’t know when that was, but I couldn’t imagine an excursion to Mt. Rainier much later than late summer or early fall. But it also occurred to me that if James Ezra and Jennie visited Seattle in 1951 it was because one or more of their sons had already settled there. Then too, Evelyn grew up in Alaska and Seattle; I don’t think her daughter Maureen would have traveled to Baltimore even if she herself did to visit her second husband’s parents. But Jean is present too, and it would also be remarkable if they visited Baltimore at the same time Jean was there. Jean grew up in Washington near White Salmon. All three of the young women in the photos are westerners. In any case, it’s extremely improbable that all of these westerners were back east just days before James and Jennie came west to visit them.
I looked up the date of James Ezra’s death: October 5. If that “four weeks” note is accurate, that puts the return trip to Baltimore in early September, and depending on how long the sojourn was, he may well have been in Seattle on August 24.
All this makes me think that these two photos are of a set with the aforementioned Rainier photo, and that they capture the occasion of a trip that James and Jennie made out west to visit their sons’ families. When I put all the evidence together, these photos are beautifully haunting. We don’t know what joys and catastrophes are just around the corner. We can only enjoy each other in the time we have, as my kinsmen were doing in the sunny moments captured here. – mdf
Image archive ID:
Top image: 20141206-008_dick_jean_w_folks
Bottom image: 20141206-020_fleagles_and_daughters_in_law
About the physical photographs:
Written on back:
Top photo: “August 24 1951
Mardi wrote: “James Ezra Fleagle
Jennie V. Fleagle
Richard (Dick) Fleagle
Jean Fleagle, his wife”
Bottom photo: “Miriam”
Different writing and ink “Aug 24, 1951”
Mim supplied info and mdf wrote:
“James & Jennie with their daughters in law Jean (far right), and Evelyn (second from left). Evelyn’s daughter Maureen is far left.”