Sepia Saturday: Reunions in Sepia
There is nothing remarkable about the above image of my paternal grandparents, Acy and Cassie Biggs, on the left and right, and an unknown women in the middle taken in 1924. However, how it came to me is one of those things that makes me think the internet is not as evil and useless as I sometimes think.
My grandfather, born in 1885, was a child of the Oklahoma Territory land run of 1889, and my grandmother was born the following year. After marrying in 1910, they had a first daughter, Ruby Lucile, who died suddenly in a household accident that haunted them for the rest of their lives. Part of their recovery was having three sons, my father being the youngest, born in 1922. By then my grandfather, whose parents were something of drifters and always lived on the edge of poverty, was one of the most successful farmers in the county with over $50,000 in savings, a remarkable sum in that era.
One morning in 1925, he was on his way from the farm to the bank in town with blue prints of the family dream house he planned to build complete with three fireplaces, an enormous wrap-around porch, a smokehouse and turrets and dormer windows. Just as he pulled his horse drawn wagon out onto the road, the wagon tipped and trapped him under one of the wheels where he was not discovered for more than two hours.
The next five years were spent on futile trips to Mayo Clinic, an odd form of electroshock therapy intended to restore use of his legs, and countless specialists who all confirmed that he would never walk again. They were correct, but the family savings were depleted by the time the 1929 stock crash hit and teh Oklahoma dust bowl followed.
That era was difficult for an able bodied man to survive in Oklahoma, and most of his siblings were part of the mass migration to California. Several stayed in touch, but the separation was difficult as was their feeling that his physical challenges made it impossible to make the journey with them. My grandmother, my dad and his brothers managed to run the family farm through that horrific period and slowly inched their way out of poverty. My grandfather died in 1952.
When my mother died in 2004, I got a mysterious email from a man with my last name in Riverside, California, who said he was a second cousin who was intent on documenting the extended family, especially those who it seemed were "lost" seven decades after the mass migration West. He had made a habit of searching any obituary with the Biggs last name, and immediately connected the dots back to his grandfather and mine. We met a few months later for the first time, and over the course of the past six years, more of the family members separated by time and thousands of miles have also met and exchanged many photos and stories.
A couple of years he sent me the above photo saying that he knew I probably had several copies of it but that I might enjoy having an electronic copy. I let out a small gasp when I opened the file. Before my father died in 2006, as his confusion grew greater through Alzheimer's, he repeated that it was becoming harder for him to remember his father standing or walking since the accident happened when he was only three years old. And while we had many pictures of him after his accident, we had only a few of him before. All of them are either portraits or shots of him seated. While father and I both stood over six feet, we knew that his father and grandfather both stood at just over and just under five feet respectively. There were stories of them both being called "little Mr. Biggs", a name neither took to very kindly.
So finally seeing a shot of my grandfather standing was bittersweet since it came a year or so after my father died. There was some solace in finally seeing what I had never seen and what my father feared he might forget
UPDATE: And here is a video I did about much of this same story. I appear towards the end -- the little kid in glasses and the sock cap with my sister and cousin Glen.