Wednesday, August 17, 2011
A Very Old Ghost
I bought the original tintype long ago; it is among the first of my collection. She is tightly corseted, which may explain her expression, but her face and hands caught my attention, and the cruel set of her jaw; her eyes very unusual, perhaps pale, pale blue, true "white eyes," that appear to be blazing with hard determination. A close look at her hands shows fine black lace mitts, but it also reveals hands that are coarsened, which is incongruent with her fine taffeta gown that must have been silk and taken as much as 20 yards to construct. So, to own the dress, she must have had some wealth, but to have those hands, she had to work with them, too. This set me to imagining a wife who had to contribute to the great labor required to keep to keep the plantation running. I know that the set of her jaw may be due to poor dental care or a painful corset, but it does look cruel to me, and so I imagine her as a slave owner, too, much like those revealed in Edward Ball's Slaves in the Family. Such ladies even found it fashionable to have small pearl handled whips, for dealing with their unhappy human possessions. For that, she deserves to have to haunt us for an eternity, and I don't care if it was fashionable, or the "custom of the country," a term used to euphemize a brutal, dreadful failure of the human heart. For a bit of fiction, well researched and set in old time New Orleans, a beloved city not without its shadows, read A Free Man of Color by Barbara Hambly, which is where I encountered that phrase, "a custom of the country." You know, there really are ghosts, and they haunt us yet. Slavery is one of the worst of them, but there are more.