I love this photo of my mother with her parents, Wilma C. (Rohde) Dowell and John Lewis Dowell Jr., when she is not yet two years old. It is a windy day in 1938, and the little family is strolling along the beach at Folly Island, a short drive south of Charleston, where they lived for a brief period when my mother was a toddler.
I don’t know who made this image. A family friend? Was it Wilma’s father or mother? I know they visited the little family during the South Carolina sojourn. In any case, the photo is what I would call very tactile. I can feel the wind when I look at this, and the stinging sand and salt in it. Though the sun is out and it is obviously a nice enough day that they have elected to visit the beach, my mother is bundled up tight against this February ocean breeze, and “Lewie” is bent against it, his face momentarily turned to it as though willing it to abate its assault on his loved ones. Grandma, however, appears unperturbed by this weather. Perhaps partly because her husband is successfully blocking the wind’s fist, she is here able to inhabit a stance of serene equanimity that she was good at projecting even when her internal state was quite different.
Given the family’s attire — just look at Grandma’s shoes — the visit appears to be spontaneous, perhaps suddenly undertaken after church. February 27th was in fact a Sunday that year. I like to imagine that Lewie’s protective position and “Willie’s” poise indicate that these early years were better for them than what came later. Here, exposed to the elements, the new parents are assailed by a physical breeze that may be strong enough to knock them off their feet (“We had to brace ourselves against the strong breeze,” is written on the back in what looks to be Grandma’s hand), and yet they seem equal to the onslaught. Grandpa actually looks pretty tough in this photo, and the couple are standing very close to each other. Later buffeted by life’s emotional storms, they fare less well together.
Let us then remember a day the sun shone, and the worst of it was a little sand in one’s shoes and pant cuffs. -mdf
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About the physical photograph:
Written on back:
“At Folly Beach Feb. 27, 1938
We had to brace ourselves against the strong breeze.”