Sometime in the mid 1960s the local power cooperative sponsored a fund raiser and asked a photo-portrait company to use the REA building as their studio. Families were invited, even encouraged, to sit for portraits that would be sold at a discounted price and the co-op would share in the proceeds. Appointments were made and a schedule was posted. Early one Saturday morning a line of families, young & old, small & large, dressed-up and casual, all made their way in front of the professional cameras to make a family keepsake that would last forever.
All that day, as well as the next afternoon, the parade continued. Each family wanted to do their part to support the small co-op that was the pride of their community, and at the same time to show off and preserve an image of what their nuclear family had been like. The excitement of the moment was only slightly diminished by the realization that they would have to wait several weeks to see the results of their efforts. The company planned a return visit, with a schedule similar to the original sittings, for each family’s representative to review their “proofs.” The final product, usually a package that would include at least one 8 x 10, several 5 x 7s, and several sheets of “wallet size” prints, would have to wait a few more weeks.
It was while those proofs were being sorted and chosen that there ensued a conversation that has become a part of the consciousness of Islanders ever since. The final response of the frustrated “picture man” has been repeated so often that most of use it anytime we are confronted with a similar scenario, and especially when we are asked to “make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”
Late in the evening, after a long and arduous day of sorting through hundreds of packages for people who talked funny and shared many of the same names, the company representative sat down with an older lady who was unhappy with what the camera had recorded of her and her family. The photo expert mentioned several alternatives to resolve her concerns; a touch up, an air brush, more or less lighting, and anything the technology of the day would allow to come up with something the lady might find acceptable.
But as the conversation ran on and on, and he sensed that other customers were growing restless after waiting long past the time of their appointment, the exasperated salesman finally reached his breaking point. When the matriarch insisted that she would not buy any of the photos until and unless she and her family were made to look “purty,” he concluded the conversation by shouting loudly enough that those waiting in the hallway could hear.
“Listen lady,” he exclaimed, as she made toward the doorway with a face that showed her disappointment, “I can’t undo what God Almighty has caused to be done!”
Harkers Island people and stories, as told to and by one of them.
"All the summer world was bright and fresh, and brimming with life . . . the sun rose upon a tranquil world, and beamed down upon the peaceful village like a benediction.” Mark Twain - Tom Sawyer
For the last ten years or so I have been compiling a list of stories --- some sublime, and some ridiculous, and some in-between --- about the Island I grew up on. It remains my hope to arrange them into a coherent narrative that will convey some of what it was like to be a small part of a special place at a special time.