Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: COMPUTER (05/19/16)
TITLE: A Wedding Photograph in Black and White
By Jan Ackerson
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She has just logged on to the website when she has to shift her knees to the side to let a group of young women pass, on their way to a nearby table. She sniffs in annoyance, then looks up from the screen to narrow her eyes at them. Their hair is startling, unfamiliar—one woman has tight braids against her skull, another has beaded dreadlocks—and Julia looks down quickly, her heart beating rapidly against her ribs. With one hand, she takes her purse from the little table and puts it behind her back.
Julia has been working on her family tree for months, ever since seeing a television program about tracing one’s ancestry. Her father’s side of the family has been easy to trace using the genealogy website, and it has been satisfying to find several branches of her family tree. It was stunning to discover that while her nine-greats grandfather wasn’t exactly on the Mayflower, he wasn’t far off, arriving in Virginia when it was still a colony. A few generations later, that ancestor’s descendant had fought in the Revolution. Seeing his name on a roster of revolutionary soldiers had filled Julia with a rush of pride. When she closed her eyes, she could imagine the fife and drum playing a patriotic tune while her brave ancestor battled the redcoats.
But her mother’s side of the family is proving to be more difficult, stubbornly refusing to be uncovered. Her mother, now deceased, had said little about her history. Julia has followed dozens of false leads, but has found nothing for certain beyond her mother’s parents.
Today’s search is proving to be hopeful, though, and Julia’s cappuccino cools while she follows a new lead on the website. Sure enough—suddenly there’s a ping that alerts her to a possible new branch, and when she clicks on the link, she sees a county record of marriage licenses containing her great-grandfather’s name.
She sits back, taking a deep breath. Finally. Her purse jabs her uncomfortably, and Julia thinks she’d like another coffee before exploring this new lead. In her own coffee shop, in her own neighborhood, she’d just leave her computer on the table and get the coffee. There, she might ask someone nearby to keep an eye on it, but she’d know that it was perfectly safe. She looks with profound distrust at the women who’d edged by her earlier, unwilling to approach them. A glance around the rest of the tables increases Julia’s unease; she sees no faces like her own.
Well, then, she thinks. I won’t leave. I have every right to be here. Still an hour before the car is ready. She leans against her purse, though, reaching back with one hand to shift it to a more comfortable position, and settles her computer onto her lap.
A few clicks, and she finds a wedding photograph—a faded black-and-white portrait of two unsmiling youngsters, looking…frightened? Defiant? Julia studies her great-grandmother’s face with growing alarm.
A few more clicks, and there’s a tiny newspaper article with their names, and the word miscegenation, and a court ruling.
A few more clicks—they have fled north.
In their new city, she finds only one mention of her great-grandmother: a death notice, just months after they arrived. Died in childbirth.
Julia clicks the back arrow until she arrives again at the wedding picture. James and Amalie Woodward. Amalie’s dress is high-necked, with a bit of lace. She’s wearing a little hat, with roses and a small veil. In the gray tones of the photo, Amalie looks much the same color as her sun-weathered groom, but her ancestry is evident in the planes of her face and the texture of her hair.
The women at the next table get up to leave, and Julia shuts her laptop quickly as they sidle past, not really knowing why. She feels the same frisson of irritation at their nearness to her that she always feels when she’s near…them.
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