Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How I First Met Bettie

I was visiting my father one day and before I was to leave he showed me two large cardboard boxes filled with photo albums, picture frames and other assorted items that I was soon to "discover" would drastically change my life.

My father explained to me how he wanted me to take possession of the boxes because he had been having trouble with his health and it was his desire I accept the responsibility of maintaining what amounted to a photographic and documented history of our family.

Many of the photographs and albums I was familiar but once I got them home and began to really look through the boxes I was surprised to find quite a few images of various people I had no knowledge.

The first image that caught my attention was of a woman that I never saw before and didn't have an idea of why it was in this box of photographs that were supposed to be "our" family history. I called my father and began to ask him about the woman and was totally surprised at the answer he gave me.

Encased in an oval convex frame was the image of what appeared to be a Caucasian woman which I had never seen before. His answer about who this woman was and her relationship to him AND me was the initial basis for my journey of discovery on my family's unknown heritage and remarkably unique history among the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians.

My father told me this was his "Indian grandmother" and her name was Bettie. To which I responded with plenty of sarcasm and disbelief; "RIGHT!" 

I mean, this was about 1989 and I was well into my third decade of life but this was the first time I had heard anything about his family and then he throws in the idea that his grandmother was "Indian" let me tell you, I was not convinced. 

However, he insisted this was his grandmother and she was indeed an Indian. He didn't have a lot of facts but assured me this was true! My father then began telling me what he knew about his "Indian grandmother."

So it began, my first step to preserve this visual history of my family was to begin by making copy negatives of all the photos. One of the promises I made to my father was I would share all of the images with my brothers and sisters. Because the majority of the photographs did not have negatives I had to copy them so I could make a print and send them to my siblings. Keep in mind this was in the stone age; before digital cameras and scanners.

Organizing the photos and copying them was a huge undertaking, fortunately at the time I was working a side job in a commercial photo lab specializing in large reprints. My background in photography and working in this lab allowed me the opportunity to cut some costs when I created the "copy-negs" and reprints.

It was during the course of the copy work that new questions arose about my family's history and this prompted what became a routine I developed with my father of calling him about once a month just to discuss the photographs in the collection and to ask about a lot of the faces of people I had no idea who they were and how they were part of our family. I was also curious about this notion that his grandmother was an "Indian."

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