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Noticing the elusive thread

Click on small photos to see larger size

Once in a while, you can come across an unusual connection between times and places, years later.   This story leads to such a case involving the large photo a page below.

My draft notice in 1968 held a hidden, secret threat for my mother: despite 42 years in the country, paying taxes and being a good member of the community, she was technically an "illegal alien", because she had stopped doing her annual registration, sometime in the 1930s.   She worried she would be found out during my security clearance background investigation - but never said a word about it.   Later, it supplied the missing reason why she had never "gone home" for a visit, like so many of her friends had done through the years.

Fortunately, she came forward to the INS sometime in the mid-1970s, and was welcomed as a new citizen.   By 1977, she had a passport, and came to visit us in Germany.   There, we took a short flight to London (it's a 600-mile drive, otherwise), with a side rail trip to Edinburgh.

She was shocked that London was so close by air from Frankfurt, knowing how alarming it was that her Scottish hometown had been the target of the first-ever "strategic bombing campaign" of the Kaiser's Zeppelins in 1915.   When we finally arrived in Edinburgh,
Edinburgh Castle from Princes Street
it was a relatively short ride to Addiewell, where she quickly located the church of her baptism, along with the adjoining parochial school she attended.   I could see her mind reeling as childhood memories came flooding back to her - she had been gone for 49 years at the time - but I didn't realize the full import of what she must have felt until now...


The two large, shifting photos below (one close-up, one wide) show the St. Pancras school/church in Addiewell Scotland.   Taken 55 years apart, they were amazingly taken from exactly the same angle - and probably at the same time of day.   Twenty years later, I noticed the relationship - and by blowing up and overlaying the two photos, there is an almost exact match.   You can see one dissolve into the the other in this animated video (.MPG), about 1.6 MB in size.

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See? it isn't too hard to be "snapped back" across 55 years of time, like she was.

For years, I thought she was the lonely blond girl with the frizzy hair on the right in the black-and-white picture (it does look like the adult mother I knew) - but 13-year-old Steven shifted our attention elsewhere, when he pointed to the picture and asked, "Is that Katie ?" (His sister - Mom's granddaughter.)   In fact, the third girl from the left in the third row from the top does look like Katie did at the same age... and the short boy standing behind her looks an awful like Mom's younger brother, Tommy Burns.

Of course, all of this may be just "seeing what we want to see" .


Another, lesser familial connection is that "mountain" in the background, which really is much closer than it looks.   It was the color of red clay in real life, and turned out to be a minor link to the Dutch Side of our family.   Ma called it "The Tip", the place where all of the useless tailings from the oil-shale mine were dumped into a very large pile.   My mother complained that it used to be ten times that size, when she was a little girl.   (A common feeling when we revisit the places of our childhood...)   However, the woman we met there in the street led us to another Burns: a "pensioner" living alone in town.   He was Mom's cousin, the last Burns left in Addiewell.   He backed up her claim about the Tip's size long ago, with a simple explanation: Most of it had been hauled away in the 1950s and loaded onto barges, where it became landfill for the Zuider Zee dikes in Holland !


Photographs and content © 1998,1999 John P. Tomany