Snapshots and Stories:
"Mother at the age of 16," a gray-hared woman says in a cracked but gentle voice. Her legs are not crossed, but knees together, back straight, head held high. That is the way mother taught her to sit, proper.
She holds a large plastic negative to the light. The image is almost completely white, a small woman in the middle. The figures hair is white and pulled back with curled bangs and delicate features. Her nose and cheeks are soft and a slight smile can be seen on her face. She is looking to her right with a small earring dangling from her left ear. Her dress is dark with a high neck.
The gray-haired woman turns to the box, pulling out one of several pictures that rests with the negatives. It is the same image as the negative she holds in her lap. She turns the picture over to examine any writing. "Hattie Hays, 1897. August before beginning teaching at the age of 16." She carefully returns the negative and picture to a small wooden box, this time picking up another picture.
"Mother always told me this was a picture of me. But it looks more like my sister Gertrude." She turns the picture over, reading the handwriting. "Isabelle Farrington, 1907." Years ago she wanted to have the negatives made into pictures, but their unusual size and age made photo shops shy away. Her only way of viewing was by light of day.
A third picture shows a two-story brick home on a bleak landscape, leafless saplings in the foreground with wooden supports. Windows are open, lace drapes hanging. The tall roof has a small square chimney jutting out of the center. Fish-scales adorn the space above the brick and below the roof.
Isabelle closes her eyes and remembers playing in the grass with her sister Gertrude.
"What a grand childhood we had." she recalls. "Father was a good man, hard working and dedicated to his practice. Mother was always there for us, not matter what the circumstances. They worked hard to make life good for Gertrude and me, as well as our younger sisters after the family moved to Kirksville." She replaces the picture of the house and finds her favorite negative, the first Farrington family portrait.
"Father, Frank Farrington, is on the left, mother, Hattie, on the right, with Gertrude and myself in the middle. Mothers features are so delicate, so young. Fathers ears," she smiles, "and his bow tie. How white our dresses were that day! Mother made sure we looked our best for the photograph."
"What a wonderful childhood we had! Father was very busy with his medical practice, but mother was always there for us. She taught us at home school, was very devoted to the church, supported the community, and was a devoted wife of a doctor."
Isabelle removes her glasses, a tear running down her cheek. She wipes her eye and thinks of her mother, Hattie Hays-Farrington, her devotion to family. Father was also very devoted to his family, and his patients.
Isabelles own husband Fred died many years ago, leaving her alone with no children or grandchildren, only a small box full of memories. She has since moved to South Carolina to be closer to her sisters.
"Those early years in Greentop, Missouri, were special. Even the first years in Kirksville were special, until The Depression." She remembers her younger sisters, Elizabeth and Elnora Lee. Elizabeth was born when Gertrude and Isabelle were ten and eight, respectively. Elnora Lee two years later. It was almost if the girls lived in two separate families, two different lifestyles, two different cities.
Isabelle returns to the letter she is writing to a young man and his wife in Greentop, Missouri, a man who purchased the Farrington home and has traced its heritage back to the Farrington daughters.
She pulls another negative from the small wooden box and holds it to the light. It is a picture of Isabelle lying on the floor with paper and pencil in hand, studying. A black bow pulls her hair back and her feet are dangling in the air as she lies on her stomach. Her book is propped against a small steel play stove that sits on a wonderfully patterned rug. Elegant flower pattern wallpaper adorns the walls. Rocking chairs and a table in the background shine from a recent polishing.
"My parents were so devoted to family, work and church," she thinks to herself. "They were great role models for myself and my sisters. And Mother so strong. What would Daddy and the children have done without her. She was the glue that held the Farrington household together, through thick and thin, richer and poorer."
Isabelle again picks up pen and paper, this time telling the young couple that she is enclosing some of her precocious negatives. She is curious to view the developed pictures and asks that he develop and return them to her.
"Please take very special care of these negatives. They are all that remain of my mother and our family. I would greatly appreciate you making pictures of these for me and my sisters to have," she writes.
Several years pass as Isabelle and her sister Elnora Lee continue their correspondence with the Haxtons about life in Greentop. After some encouragement from Jason and Lori, Isabelle agrees to join Elnora Lee to video tape the sisters speaking about their childhood and family.
Pictures are developed, memories relived. Snapshots and Stories of the Farrington Family
A Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
for the Degree of Master of Arts