Suppose Your Photo Ends Up on the Wall of a Restaurant?

By Joe Darby


Have you ever been in a Cracker Barrel restaurant and noticed all of the old photo portraits on the walls? Or have you gone into an antique store and seen lots of smaller personal photos of people, many of them obviously taken 80, 100 or 140 years ago?

That’s kind of sad, in a way. A portrait photo, which was certainly of some importance to people, say, in 1905, ends up abandoned so to speak. It’s now used as a decoration, or is for sale as a simple object representing the past, like an old vase.

Not too long ago we were eating in the Cracker Barrel just north of Alexandria and were seated next to a wall. The large portrait photo of a young man stared down on us. While waiting for my meatloaf, I became sort of fascinated by the guy. From the look of his clothing, I would guess the picture was taken about 100 years or so ago.

I tried to put together in my mind a personality for him. His face was in fact rather hard to read, but I thought I detected a certain level of seriousness, mitigated by a dry sense of humor. He was probably a good husband, but not overly affectionate, and a kind father but rather strict. He was likely respected by the people he worked with, but he probably wasn’t the first guy they would think of when they wanted to relax with a couple of beers.

Or maybe I was completely wrong in my assessment of the young gentleman. He might have been the most out-going, funniest chap you’d ever want to meet. Or he might have been a world-class grump, whom people would run away from when they saw him coming.

I’ll never know, that’s for sure. But my point is, the poor guy’s image ends up on a wall, where an endless procession of strangers will likely glance at him and go on eating their fried chicken or roast beef lunches, not caring a hoot who he was.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t fault Cracker Barrel for using old photos as decorations and I do really like the nostalgic antique objects they have in their eateries, everything from old shovels to 19th century telephones.

But why does a family get rid of relatives’ photos in the first place? Obviously because the person in the picture either had no more direct descendants or their great-grandchildren just didn’t care any more.

I cherish my old family photos. Among my favorites are one of grandfather Darby graduating from Tulane medical school around 1904. Another is of Mother as a very cute flapper in the late 1920s.

When I was getting the idea for this column, I looked up at a nice large photo of my sister Joan, who died of cancer at 49 about 36 years ago. The picture is on my bedroom wall and she looks quite pretty, reminding me a lot of Princess Margaret of Great Britain, the Queen’s late sister.

But Joan had no children and after her passing her husband went back to the Pacific Northwest where he was from. So I wonder what will happen to Joan’s picture after I’m gone. Realistically, it’s not highly likely that one of my daughters will want it. They were quite small when Joan passed away. But Becky, my oldest, takes pride in family and she just may want to keep it. I hope so.

Anyway, you understand my concern. Unlike the ancient Chinese, I don’t think we need to worship our ancestors. But I think we need to cherish their memories and give them respect.

Gosh, I wonder if, after my girls have gone, my picture will be looking down on someone eating meatloaf 50 years from now.

3 thoughts on “Suppose Your Photo Ends Up on the Wall of a Restaurant?

  1. I inherited a box of old photos from at least 100 years ago. The problem is I do not know who they are or what side of the family they are from. My children could care less about them. I can’t bring myself to get rid of them. They were special to someone once. Please, take time to write on the back of old photos – name, relationship, brief history.

    • Folks, if you don’t do this now, please start, and then go back and do the ones that need to be updated. The date is also a good thing to put on the back of photos, and possibly the age of person pictured in the photograph. I love the old photos from my family, and I’m very fortunate that my mother was a firm believer of noting info on the back. Your children and grandchildren will appreciate it so much.

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