|My Grandfather, Guy Wheelock Harris, |
on the front porch at 9 York St., Glace Bay
I've had this photo of my mother's father in my possession for some time, and I love it for many reasons. I like the casual, relaxed pose in the rocking chair. I love the fact that he's on the porch of the house where my mom and her siblings were born and raised. Most of all, I love that he has a book in his lap, and judging by the bookmark, he was about three quarters of the way through.
I have always longed to know what that book was. At first, I assumed he might be reading the Bible - my mother came from a staunch Catholic home. My Grandfather, Guy, upon marrying my Grandmother, converted to the Catholic faith. He had abandoned the Baptist faith of his family and ancestors and for a long time, his family ostracized him as a result. In fact, it wasn't just his family; the Protestant townspeople who knew his father, made sure that he couldn't get a job with any of their businesses.
I have always known that my Grandfather was a clerk for The Dominion Coal Company which ran the coal mines on the edge of Glace Bay, but I only recently learned that he was a insurance salesman when he was first married to my Grandmother, Katie McNeil. I found this out when I happened to do a search using my family tree on Ancestry.com and their new Canadian Voter Lists record popped up. There's my Grandfather, at 9 York St. listed as working in insurance.
Sure enough, my mother confirms that this was the job he had to take to feed his family, until I guess, my Great-grandfather (his Father-in-Law, the Town Clerk) secured him a job with Dominion Coal.
But back to the book. When I doctored up this photo from its original state, and then zoomed in on the book, it was easy to see that it was not the Bible. This presented a mystery that I just had to try and solve!
Knowing that the photo was taken in the 1950s (I think it's around the time that my aunt, Joan wed her husband, Malcolm Read in about 1955.) I know that their first child was born in 1956, and since she had children almost every year until 1962, I can deduce that the first baby was born right away, which testifies to the 1955 marriage date.
Given that books were not as readily available as they are today (especially in a small town), I would say it is likely the one on his lap could have been from a library. I did some digging.
In 1950, the Glace Bay branch of the brand new Cape Breton Regional Library was opened. Hmm. Now, what books were popular in the 1950s?
Here's a great list I found:
(It's interesting how many of these books were turned into films.)
1. From Here to Eternity, James Jones
2. Return to Paradise, James A. Michener
3. The Silver Chalice, Thomas B. Costain
4. East of Eden, John Steinbeck
5. Giant, Edna Ferber
6. The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
7. The Robe, Lloyd C. Douglas
8. Desiree, Annmarie Selinko
9. Battle Cry, Leon M. Uris
10. Love is Eternal, Irving Stone
11. The Egyptian, Mika Waltari
12. No Time For Sergeants, Mac Hyman
13. Auntie Mame, Patrick Dennis
14. Andersonville, MacKinlay Kanto
15. Bonjour Tristesse, Francoise Sagan
16. Peyton Place, Grace Metalious
17. Eloise, Kay Thompson
18. The Tribe That Lost Its Head, Nicholas Monsarrat
19. The Mandarins, Simone de Beauvoir
20. Rally Round the Flag, Boys! Max Shulman
21. Blue Camellia, Frances Parkinson Keyes
22. The Scapegoat, Daphne du Maurier
23. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
24. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
25. Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak
26. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
27. Exodus, Leon Uris
28. Poor No More, Robert Ruark
29. The Ugly American, William J. Lederer and Eugene L. Burdick
30. Lady Chatterley's Lover, D.H. Lawrence
I can rule out a number of these titles. Anything that is frivolous or risque ("Lolita", for example) is out! Anything that is strictly for the woman's market, like "Peyton Place" - nope. That leaves me with religious stories (quite possibly, "The Robe", "The Silver Chalice" or "Exodus" might be candidates). A war story like "From Here to Eternity" might be the one. I want to narrow it down further, so I decide to take a look at the original covers of these books to see if I can match them to the photo. The book looks dark with white writing to me - could be dark blue or black, and the title looks to be either one or two words only - a bold heading. Looking at some of the vintage covers on various sites, I can rule out almost any of the ones I was considering, until ... I hit upon this one:
It just so happens, that this book was published in 1955. I can see my 61-year old Grandfather signing this out of the fairly new local library to read a tale that interweaves the stories of real and fictional characters in the Civil War who were held captive at this notorious war-prison. It sounds like a cracker of a book to me!
If my Grandfather did sign out this book, (Let's say, on his way home from work, he popped into the library, perused the NEW BOOKS shelf and took this one up to the front desk), he could very well have handed his selection to this, then 48-year old lady, to have her stamp his card, smile and say, "Have a nice day!'
Ida Gallant Delaney (click image for bio)
Of course this is all just speculation; I will never know for certain that this is the book that was resting on his lap in this photo. He could have favoured NON-fiction, for all I know. For that matter, Ida may not even have worked at the front desk, but it's sure fun to imagine!
Coincidentally, only this morning, I have just discovered the e-books feature on Goodreads and have begun to read a book that I have been meaning to read for ages. It also happens to be the last one on the FICTION list. I don't think my Baptist-to-Catholic Grandfather would have approved, do you?
Don't forget to visit the Sepia Saturday blog to find everyone else's take on the image below:
|Click to link to SS.|