Day 396: A life in pictures

Recognize this cutie? Email Joe and let him know. (Hey, a poem!)
Recognize this cutie? Email Joe and let him know. (Hey, a poem!)

I heard about this story on the radio this morning and it captured my heart and my imagination. I hope it will yours.

On her way home from classes at York University, Jenna Kelly found an envelope containing old photographs. As she flipped through the pictures, she felt drawn into the story of this family’s life and felt compelled to try and reunite the photos with their owner.

Read on (and take a look through the photo gallery) and if you recognize anyone, please email the Toronto Star at the email at the end of this post. For her efforts on this family’s behalf, Jenna’s my Everyday Hero today, as is Joe Fiorito for writing about it.

Lost photos hold mirror to hear, soul of a family
excerpted from The Toronto Star, July 31, 2009
by Joe Fiorito

What is the name of the boy on the pony? Who is the man with the babe in his arms? What is the woman typing?

Jenna Kelly was on her way home from York University one night, a week or so ago. She said, “I was on the southbound train from Downsview around 9:45 p.m. It was chilly – I was wearing a sweater – and the air conditioning was on, and that made it worse.”

We were having coffee on College St. the other day. She said, “I looked around for something to read. I found an old paper; underneath it was a ripped grocery bag. Strewn about the seat were these.”

She handed me a plastic baggie as if it contained the most precious thing in the world – a handful of old photos.

The photos are creased and dog-eared and softened by time; they are a record of a family’s life, the kind of images anyone might use to tell the stories of the generations.

Who are those two old men in stiff dark suits, and what is the name of the baby they hold?

“I looked around to see if anyone was getting off, in case they might have left the photos behind. There was no one. I asked one of the other students if they were hers. She said no, but she said the photos looked important.”

Who are the three women sitting on the sofa – are they sisters, aunties, grannies? – and why did they get perms, and what’s in that glass on the coffee table?

Jenna said, “My heart sank. This is a Jewish family; often, photos are the only things people have left. I feel horrible that someone’s family would be without these.”

There is no way of knowing how long the pictures were on the subway. I don’t know how many passengers pawed over them before Jenna found them. But I do know that, before they were scattered about, the photos had been in a small paper envelope bearing the name of an ocean liner, the S.S. Shalom.

Jenna said, “I did some research. The S.S. Shalom carried passengers between New York to Haifa for a brief period, not long after the state of Israel was formed.” And then she paused.

“I can’t imagine what the person who lost these is going through.”

She said, “I called the TTC, and they said bring them in, but I didn’t want to turn the pictures over. So I left them my information.”

No one has called.

Who is the tyke in the summer dress? How old is she, and where is the other half of the photo, and why was it torn?

Jenna said, “I contacted some of the Jewish community centres. They said if the photos aren’t donated to their archives, then they don’t actually own them, so how could they prove . …”

There’s the rub.

Those old couples standing by the house one summer long ago, are they refugees, and is that pain behind their smiles? And what are the names of those kids by the car at the lake?

Jenna told me a bit about her own family. Her great-grandfather came from France; he was the keeper of a lighthouse in Newfoundland. She has a photo of her family at that lighthouse.

Some years later, someone set a fire and the lighthouse was destroyed. She still has that photo.

If you can prove that the pictures Jenna found are yours, let me know and I’ll put you in touch.



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