My wife, Veloy, never knew her Grandpa "Almy" - Alma Christiansen. He lived in Pleasant Grove all of his life, but died before she was born. Like most people in rural communities at the time, he eked out a living for his family on a small family farm. He was custodian at the church for a time, and was in partnership with a couple of other men in a brickyard that occupied much of their energies for several years.
He also loved gadgets and in about 1910 purchased a Kodak Premo camera, one of the first truly compact cameras.While the Kodak that Alma acquired might have been innovative in size, a true precursor to later snapshot-type cameras that would come to be used by the general public, emulsion film was not yet standard, and the plates that captured the images were still made of glass. They were very fragile and were carefully developed by the photographer himself.
My mother-in-law recollects as a little girl watching her father set up his enamel tray in the bedroom, or wherever he could find a dark corner. He would swish the developing solution back and forth until, finally, the image would appear in what seemed like magic.
The postcard-sized photos were a real novelty to the family. They were kept in wooden chalk boxes and it was always special to get them out and look at them.
Alma's images broke the standard pattern of posed formality so typical of studio photographs of the time. He would set up his camera on a snowy winter day in the middle of the road and photograph all the neighbor kids sleigh riding. In the summer, he would spend a whole afternoon walking to the dry farms above town to photograph a neighbor cutting wheat.
One day a huge thresher tipped over in the middle of the road north of town. Alma went out and shot it from several angles, showing a crew of local men setting up a makeshift derrick to lift the metal monster back up on its wheels. In the corner of one of these photos his small son, Rhodin, can be seen sitting on a log looking into the eye of his father's camera.
It was Rhodin who many years after his father's death pulled the dusty apple crates full of glass plates down from the attic of the garage and began to sort through them. During the next several years he meticulously catalogued and identified his father's photos - over 700 of them. It was a laborious task, but a vital one, because without identification, the priceless photos would be virtually meaningless to later generations. As it is, they have become a community treasure.
Before World War I, my Grandpa Petersen dated a girl from Pleasant Grove. He would ride from Alpine on horseback to the Saturday night dances on the spring-suspended maple floor at the high school and then ride back to his farm on the outskirts of Alpine in the middle of the night.
At those dances he met a girl named Pearl. She became my grandmother.
Pearl died young, when my mother was only 16, so I never knew her except from my mother's descriptions and a few random snapshots taken in the 1920s and '30s.
A couple of years ago, while visiting Veloy's mother one Sunday evening, her Uncle Rhodin came by and told me he thought he had come across a photo among the glass plates his father had taken that might be of my grandmother.
It seemed impossible.
But he was right. When the photos came back from developing, there was no doubt that the image was of Pearl. There she was with her sister, both of them teenagers, standing in a corner of my wife's grandfather's yard on a bright late-winter morning with patches of snow in the fields behind them.
Suddenly, Veloy's grandpa's photos, which for years I had cherished as a legacy conveying her family's history, became a delicate window into a moment of my own past, a moment of my grandmother's youth - given to me by my wife's grandfather, without his ever having comprehended the import of what he was doing when he snapped the shutter.
Pearl, too, looking into the camera, could not have comprehended that a grandchild she would never know would someday look back through Alma's magic peephole into time and see her standing there - or that that same grandchild would someday marry a grandchild of the man taking the photograph.
Have you ever noticed how often when you meet a person it isn't long until you make mutual connections of some sort? And imagine the many links we never realize simply because we never make the connection.
It is amazing how mingled our lives are, how despite presumed dissimilarities we are fused together - all of us - in a union of relationships as fascinating as the complex bonding of molecules and atoms, and that if you go back far enough, you find that we are all connected in a living chain that transcends the boundaries of nationality and time.