Edna May in sun and shade

Edna May (Wells) Rohde

Edna May (Wells) Rohde in the shade. The dirt road may actually be the first avatar of Brightside Avenue.

My mother has beautifully expressive eyes. I never really thought much about where she got them, heritage-wise, but the answer hit me when I started looking at photos of her maternal grandmother Edna May — the photo above in particular.

The first time I saw the photo above I thought, “this could be Mom as a young woman”. And it’s not just the eyes but the mouth, cheeks, the whole face — even the expression of diffident amusement. I remember moments when my mother looked almost exactly like this. Odd, then, that I never heard anyone say to my mother, or of her, that she had her Grandma Rohde’s eyes. Then again, I grew up out west, far from the extended family members who might have voiced these observations.

I don’t have a date or location for either of these photos, but I have a gut feeling that they were both taken in the fields outside the Brightside house in Pikesville. In almost every other photo that I have found of Edna May — certainly all of those taken later in her life — her countenance lacks the round, soft, openness of this early outdoor portrait.

Here’s another taken outside and what looks to me a goodly number of years later.

Edna May outside, a few years later.

Edna May outside again (or still?), less amused than before.

In this second photo, some of that sharpness has set in around Edna’s visage that will become even more pronounced later (see Edna in the back row here). True, she’s now standing in bright sun and possibly her eyes are squinting against the glare, but still the change is remarkable, all the more because she still looks a lot like my mother, only this time she looks like my mother when my mother was about to shout all three of my names. She no longer looks amused here, maybe because she’s been made to stand outside for 15 years while someone adjusted the camera lens.

I’m not sure whether the tilted horizon was a deliberate stylistic choice, to lend the photo a more dramatic effect, or just the kind of composition failure that often attends family photos. Either way, I like it, and I have a feeling I would have liked Edna May a lot, too. Her daughter, my grandmother, had a sharp, literate wit that she passed to my mother. It had to come from somewhere.

Born in 1887, Edna May was the daughter of Harmon Kingsbury Wells of Toledo, Ohio, and Laura Phoebe Gridley. In 1909 she married William Carl Rohde, a schoolteacher in Brunswick, Ohio. Around 1919 they moved briefly to Hamilton, which at that time was just outside of Baltimore city limits, and subsequently bought the house at 133 Brightside, where they lived for most of their years raising five children. I don’t know if anyone in the family still living knows the location of her grave (I have a hunch it’s back in Ohio somewhere), but Edna May outlived her husband by twenty years and died on 16 February 1969.

Image Archive ID:
20150701_011_edna_may_rohde_nee_wells

About the physical photograph:
Written on back:
“Edna May Rohde
(nee Wells)”
From the collection of Barbara Fleagle.

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6 thoughts on “Edna May in sun and shade

  1. I think Edna (Grammom to me) died in the ’70’s. i can see myself in both pictures. Life was hard and the house big and there were five children. I believe I have been told that Grammom also served as a midwife in the neighborhood from time to tiI am often me. I remember the kitchen cupboard in the kitchen that had hanging bins, one on each side, one for sugar and one for flour and she would sift flour from one and pour sugar from the other. She also made bread and other delicious things. I loved her. I also can still recall being with her at Sudbrook ethodist Church, singing the old and beautiful hymns. Tje church I now attend also still sings al the old hymns and transported back to those times hearing her sing alto. Ah. A much simpler world then. (the beginning of this msg disappeared!)

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    • Hi Mom. Thanks for this. Feel free to add anything more you remember. I love the detail about the sugar/flour operation and her singing alto. Since I didn’t know her, your memories are precious to me and important to what will remain to be told of Edna May. Several internal (family) sources I have say she died in 1969, but I can’t verify this by any official document. I figure the family album your cousin compiled for you is about as authoritative as it gets for our dear Edna May, and that book says 16 February 1969. Perhaps I’ll eventually find something more.

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