My mom was the guillotine of photographers. She cut off more heads (figuratively speaking) than Henry VIII did literally. When she passed away, my sister and I decided to go through hundreds of her old photos, identify the headless subjects, and label them.
In most cases, it was as deep a mystery as any that Sherlock Holmes and Watson had to solve. All we had to go on were figures, clothing, and background clues.
Hmm, I thought, looking through my magnifying glass at the first photo. “There are three headless people here, Watson,” (who was portrayed by my sister). “I think the one in the middle is Uncle Frank. The figure is wearing jodhpurs, and Frank always considered himself quite the horseman, although the closest he ever came to a horse was when he had that job mucking out the stalls at the track.”
“The figures on either side appear to be women,” said Watson. “They’re wearing dresses, although the one on the left could be Uncle Barry, who was rumored to be a crossdresser. There’s enough hair on those legs to stall a lawnmower.”
“No, I think that’s Aunt Brenda,” I said, taking a few brief puffs on my long-stemmed pipe. Cough, cough. “She stopped shaving her legs and plucking her chin hairs when she got involved with that cult. She said she wanted to ‘meet her maker’ in her natural state. She was later electrocuted when she stepped out of her bathtub. She was nude, so that’s about as natural as you can get when you reach the Pearly Gates. I think the woman on the other side in the photo is Mom’s Aunt Ellie. I recognize her apron. It’s stained with what looks like grape juice, and she was known for her homemade grape preserves. They won the blue ribbon almost every year at the county fair. If you look closely, you can see that Uncle Frank is fondling her backside. Remember that rumor that was floating around in the 1950s? I think I see Uncle Frank’s wife Delores glaring at him in the background of the photo. Because she was in the distance in the photo, she still has her head.”
“So,” said Watson, nodding, “We are in agreement that the man in the middle is Uncle Frank, and the women on either side are Aunt Brenda and Aunt Millie, and the angry woman in the background is Uncle Frank’s wife Aunt Delores. Now, to settle on a date for the photo. Any ideas, Holmes?”
Pulling my double-billed deerstalker cap lower on my forehead and taking a few more puffs on my pipe (cough, cough), I peered so closely through my magnifying glass that my nose was nearly touching the photo.
“Hmm, Isn’t that Grandpa’s 1956 Packard in the driveway? I see a small dent in the front fender, which I believe (puff, puff, cough, cough) was the result of the time he had too many beers and drove through Grandma’s flower bed, and she walloped the fender with her garden rake. That was April 12, 1957, so the photo had to have been taken after that date. As for an end date, hmm, it must be before April 14, 1957, because that’s when Grandma sold the Packard right out from under him and told him he could take a bus or walk to work. Therefore, my dear Watson, I deduce that this photo was taken on April 13, 1957.
On to the next photo, Watson! Hmm, there appears to be a board game in progress. The photographer (Mom) has chopped off the players’ heads, as usual, but the players appear to be males. I recognize Uncle Jack’s wristwatch, Uncle Bert’s hat, and Grandpa’s overalls. The other player must be Uncle Fritz, because he’s missing the index finger on his right hand, which he lost in a high-stakes game of poker. They’re playing the board game Clue. Uncle Jack is cheating and I deduce that Colonel Mustard did it in the lounge with a lead pipe. It’s elementary, my dear Watson. Let’s call it a day. This deerstalker is giving me hat-hair and the pipe smoke is irritating my sinuses.”