It’s been an interesting 48 hours. It began with a negative — a medium-format negative. A formal pose, probably a man in uniform. In an envelope marked “1943.” Now, that could mean one of two things: first, another portrait of my father, but he was in the Navy and in 1943 had not yet gotten back together with my mother; or, second, a picture of the long mysterious WSW, Mother’s one-time fiancé. (You’ll appreciate why I’m keeping him anonymous; continue reading.)
So I scanned the negative at 1200 dpi, and there staring out at me from the screen was a man I didn’t know. Army uniform, lieutenant’s bars, but otherwise no clue to his identity. What could I do next?
I turned to Google, in a step that even as recently as five years ago would probably not have yielded anything. Instead of waiting months and spending probably thousands of dollars employing someone to search out this person, or spending countless hours in correspondence and telephone calls chasing down dead ends, I plugged WSW’s name into Google.
There, in the first five items, up popped WSW’s name exactly, the president of a company in another state. Obviously it couldn’t be him. Given my mother died at age 101½, there was no way WSW could be alive. Perhaps he was one of those who pass their name to a son. The company had a “contact us” page with the ubiquitous form to submit name, email, other information, and a message. So I wrote:
This is directed at WSW.
Dear Mr. W:
If your father or grandfather was also named WSW and if he served in World War II, I may have a photo of him I’m willing to share.
Please get in touch if the foregoing applies.
That was Tuesday. Yesterday morning, waiting for me in my inbox, was this:
Good Morning Stephen: your e-mail to to ___ found its way to me this morning. Yes – my dad was also WSW and was a captain in the Army Air Corps during WWII. It would be interesting to see if the person in the photo you refer to is him. I look forward to hearing back from you.
I sent him a JPEG of the pic, and he speedily replied:
Hi: thanx for forwarding the picture – I’m sure that’s my dad, Mom had a picture of him when he was a capt. and the two photos are almost identical, except for a couple years older. Any other info you might have would be greatly appreciated. Any idea where he was stationed at the time?
I replied he was probably stationed for a time at Wright-Patterson in Dayton, Ohio, since that was where my mother was at the time. I also told him I had a bag full of letters apparently written by him, yet to be read. But then I wrote: “This then becomes the question: how much do you want to know?” I asked because I also told him we thought WSW (the father) had broken off the engagement, and I wanted to be sure he was willing to hear details that might be less than complimentary. (In fact, the story is potentially a good deal more nefarious than that, according to my uncle, who told me his version yesterday, too, something he’s never shared with anyone except his now-deceased wife, but I’m not yet willing to go public with that version of the story, at least not until I review letters both from WSW and 1944 letters from my grandparents to my mother.)
However, at least we can put a face with this mysterious one-time fiancé.
Such is life here these days.
In the style of Irving Penn’s “Earthly Bodies” series.