I accepted the album from his outstretched hand and found the tab marked ‘Front Room’ and held the album up against the wall. The flowers, which were varying shades of flat gray in the photograph, were in vivid detail before my eyes—large powder and royal-blue peonies blossoms, delicate butter-yellow roses, silver cattails, and so many different shades of green leaves and stems, from bright, to Olive, to Forest, all with subtle silvery highlights and lowlights that added life; just a riot of color, depth and motion.
“I would have never guessed,” I breathed, completely awestruck. “Do you think it all looks as good as this small area?”
When I turned to look at him, I found Dave was standing with his arms folded over his chest, watching my reaction with a broad grin on his face.
“I wouldn’t count on it, Torie, especially around the windows and the fireplace there,” he said pointing at the soot blackened hearth. “I expect to find some damage in those areas but at least we have the pattern and colors so that we can order it custom. I’m hoping to find little remnants like this elsewhere in the house to help with the authenticity of the finished look. Wouldn’t that be awesome?”
“It would sure make our lives easier,” I agreed, nodding.
I held the photo album out in front of me and moved around the room until I was lined up exactly with the windows and fireplace visible in the tintype photograph. This was an older photo, taken around 1883. My grandfather had told me once that early photographers would travel around entire regions, making their living by charging for tintypes and leaving behind these little gems that were glimpses back in time and would ultimately become family heirlooms.
The time frame fit with the subjects of the photo. My great-great-grandma Rose and her husband Judson were seated in matching bent cane rocking chairs. Rose was posed as though she had just looked up from reading a book that was open upon her lap; Grandpa Judson was clutching the arms of his rocking chair and staring the camera down, very stoic and proud.
There was a beautiful flowered oil lamp with a glass shade and dangling fonts sitting on the table between them. The table also held a framed tintype of my great-grandmother Alice Wyman Mills at about nineteen years old and her sisters, two-year-old Emily Wyman and infant Ivy Wyman McFall, circa 1869. The fourth Wyman daughter, Mahala, wasn’t born until 1870. Between Alice, the oldest, and the girls at the bottom of the pecking order, were three Wyman brothers, not pictured.
I turned my attention to the room’s ceiling which in the photo was papered also, with a completely different pattern of flowers than that of the walls. I wondered aloud if the original pattern could still be up there, hidden under layers and layers of tawny and peeling white paint.
“I’ll be finding out in the next week or so,” Dave answered. “You’ll want it reproduced as well?”
“Hmmm,” I pondered. “That might be just a bit too busy for my taste but if it isn’t too crazy, yes I think so. I guess we can discuss that when we see it.”
“Sure,” Dave agreed with a nod.
I scuffed the toe of my tennis shoe along the hardwood floor that in the photo was covered with a large area rug that featured Iowa wildlife scenes but which was now just barren and gnarled old wood. Dave bent down beside me, smoothing his hand along the defect my shoe had discovered.
“That’ll be fine,” he assured me. “The original makings of a great hardwood floor are in there, it just needs a good sanding and fresh stain to bring it back to life.”
“I’ll take your word on that,” I said a little unbelievingly, turning my attention back to the album and the tintype.
A framed photograph of people unknown to me hung on the far wall back behind Rose and Judson. I’d gone so far as to have this photograph professionally restored and analyzed, but the large family portrait hanging on the wall in the background was, at best, just a fuzzy image of my long-gone relatives, lost to time.
“Okay. Moving on,” Dave announced, walking backward as he motioned me to follow and ushered me back across the entry and through another arched doorway on the far side of the front foyer.