Ready for My Close-Up

Everything I’ve read about Thomas Lovewell’s second wife has led me to wonder if my mother might have been the reincarnation of Orel Jane Lovewell.  Of course, I would put more stock in the idea if I believed in reincarnation in the first place, and if my mother hadn’t been a teenager when Orel Jane died.  A few days ago I received a photograph from Dale Ann Johnson that has me rethinking my skepticism.  It’s a big, sharp version of the faded halftone that appears in “The Lovewell Family,” published in 1979.  Frankly, I could never tell from that tiny, blurred image, just how old Orel Jane was supposed to be in the picture or what she looked like, except … like a wispy elderly lady.

Orel Jane

One thing the improved version of the photo tells me is that Orel Jane was about as thrilled to have her picture taken as my mother used to be.  My older brother Ron once pointed the family’s Brownie Hawkeye at her while she was taking a weed whip to the edge of her flower garden.  She reacted by scolding him indignantly and shaking the hem of her dress furiously, certain that he wouldn’t snap the shutter if she did that.  She was wrong, of course.  The final humiliation came when the developed film arrived and she seemed to be doing a provocative can-can for the camera.  I don’t remember if she laughed until she cried or cried until she started laughing, but as I recall she did laugh and cry after seeing it.

When I first saw the image of Orel Jane standing on a sidewalk in Lovewell on page 95 A of “The Lovewell Family,” I wondered if she might have been glum about having her picture taken, knowing that there was a large, greasy stain at the bottom of her off-white pleated skirt.  Studying the crisp and darker new version of the picture, I realized that what she seems to be wearing is a muted floral print which must have been at least somewhat colorful.  

Otherwise, she looks much as she does in a pair of family reunion photos, probably taken on her husband’s birthday in 1913, a date which Dave Lovewell and I agreed, fits with the appearance of little Freida Lovewell, who was held aloft by her Uncle Grant, and with the round object in Ben Stofer’s left hand (see The Half-Life of Freida Lovewell on this site).  That’s not to say the picture of Orel Jane was taken on the same day, but perhaps within a year or so.  It seems likely to me that Orel Jane is either seventy or in her early seventies here.  

The picture very well could be a record of a certain spring day in 1913 when, according to an item in the Lovewell Index, she walked to the post office to announce that Mr. Lovewell was feeling better than he had in years, and was taking advantage of the beautiful weather to stroll about in his yard.  Whatever the occasion was, this may be the closest anyone was allowed to approach Orel Jane Lovewell while holding a camera.  

Ben and Mary Anniversary

It’s much easier to date one of the photos sent by Ashley Gresham, thanks to another passage concerning the Stofers from Gloria Lovewell’s book:  “Ben and Med Stofer celebrated their golden wedding anniversary on February 13, 1946” (“Med” was Mary Lovewell’s nickname).  

Since the text might have been written to accompany the photo (though it wound up being omitted from the history book in favor of the couple's wedding picture) it’s time the caption and the picture finally appeared together.

It’s not going far out on a limb here to guess that the younger people surrounding them are the Stofers' children, Pansy, Ethyle, and Ben, Jr.

Until I saw this picture and double-checked the dates, it never occurred to me that Mary Juliana Lovewell had married at fifteen, one year older than her namesake Juliana Lovewell, who was barely fourteen when she married Edward McCaul in 1871.  For me, however, the most remarkable thing about the two photographs on this page is that they were taken only thirty years apart, and the chief subjects of each are separated in time by a single generation.  While Orel Jane Lovewell and her son-in-law are shown at approximately the same age, it’s plain to see that they were from different worlds.  

© Dale Switzer 2023