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.
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:
About the physical photograph:
Written on back:
“Edna May Rohde
From the collection of Barbara Fleagle.