Posted by: SJS | March 11, 2011


Learning about one’s parents before they became one’s parents is always a fascinating and, at times, a very surprising experience.  Fully comprehending that your parents had a childhood, an adolescence, and a young adulthood before you came along can be a shock.  The stories from grandparents certainly help. Photographs, however, seem to deliver the most powerful impact.  

In addition to conveying a visual image, a photograph can have an almost magical quality in terms of transmitting an energy present in a person or a group of people.  Photographs, like words, stimulate our imagination and help us realize truths at a deeper level.  Clearly, there’s more going on than we’re seeing or hearing. 

Red’s  first posting overseas in 1944 was in the Mediterranean where he served on a base supporting the PT boats which were carrying out operations against the Germans in Italy and Southern France.  He was far away from home, in the middle of a huge war, and in the company of hundreds of other young men his own age.  Life was a mixture of danger, boredom, and apparently, a lot of fun.  Red grew a red beard and found enormous enjoyment in the company of his fellow sailors.  Photographs don’t lie. 

Red and other sailors 1944

Red with beard 1944

As a child, when I first saw this photograph, I could not believe that the bearded man was my father.  As an adult, seeing the photograph with adult eyes, I can still barely believe that it is him. 

 “Yes, Stephen,” I can still hear Nana Stahley saying to me so many years ago, “that bearded wild man is your father living it up in the Navy.”  And I can still see her shaking her head as she said to me, “Isn’t it awful?”


  1. Steven. looking back,expecialty in photographs is dangerous. You place time,emotion and meaning on a snap shot that was never ment to tell a story. People take photos to remember the moment. People read snapshots and transfer emotion,write a story in their mind and make a conclusion. Photos are a snapshot in time. Something frozen never to be rewined and analyzed. They are beautiful without contex of time or obligation.

    • Michael,

      Thanks for your comment. Photos do have their own beauty as you say, independent of time or obligation. For me, they also have the ability to carry stories and convey emotions. Photos of family members, and other people that we know well, add to our understanding of who they are. Of course, since I have so much Irish blood, not only does every picture tell a story, it tells several stories!


  2. These photos are excellent quality for the time taken as compared to, for example, photos of my family in that era. I know what you mean Michael – pictures can more or less lie even before Photoshop and other doctoring techniques were used. They are manipulated in capture and subjective in perception. Although I do believe that photos may be telling only a very quick and specific angle, they also provide unique insight and huge clues to piece together a personal history and as such are immensely valuable and interesting!

    • Nancy,

      You make some excellent points; thanks for your comments.


  3. Stephen,
    I LOVE your story-telling 🙂
    I can’t help it – I’m a big fan.

    • Nancy,

      Thanks so much! You’re helping me to keep on “blog rolling!”


  4. That unruly, and I am sorry to say, quite unattractive, beard on your Dad reminds me of the whiskers our son Thomas tried to grow last year! Tom was so proud to have whiskers! I think he finaaly shaved them when one of his younger cousins said he looked like a Gibbons monkey. I guess Tom got the bad-beard gene from his grandfather.

  5. Steve –

    The photographs on this blog are outstanding. They are good technically and convey so much about the time, circumstances, and relationships of the people in them. Also, your description of why the photography is important rings true. As a father of a 20 year old son, it is hard for me to imagine him in a similar situation at his age. The photos describe so much more than words alone can.


    • Dudley,

      With your background as a professional photographer, as well as a photographer who has won artistic awards for his work, I am very grateful for your supporitve comments. The family thread that brought the photos to this point is such an amazing one: my father took the photos (or had them taken), my grandfather got them developed and categorized, and my sister Joan preserved them safely for many years. My job has been made so much easier by all the diligent efforts that went before. I appreciate your acknowledgement of these precious treasures. And thanks for subscribing to the blog.


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