One day in January, near the turnstile at the exit of the 125th Street subway station, something caught my eye: a sepia-toned photograph that showed what looked like three siblings sitting on a davenport.
The photo was dated December 1941. On the back were the children’s names and ages: Peter, 6; Emily, 3; and Thomas, 8.
They were in their Sunday best. Peter was wearing short pants and wire-frame glasses. He had a mischievous grin and was looking toward his older brother. Emily, a lovely bow holding her hair back, had the wary look of a girl who might at any moment be pranked by one or both her brothers. Thomas, handsome in knickers, looked directly into the camera. He appeared impatient, like he wanted to get away from the little kids.
The person who dropped it must be heartsick, I thought. It needed its proper home.
The parents’ names, Philomena and Edwin, were on the back as well. After an unsuccessful session with Ancestry at the library, I plugged Peter’s full name into Google and found his obituary. I learned that he had been preceded in death by his brother Thomas and survived by his sister Emily, whose married name was included.
I Googled Emily and learned that she lived in a small town in Colorado. Finding her address, I sent her a copy of the photo, with a note asking, “Is that you in the middle?”
I was rewarded with a beautiful note in return. The photo, she told me, had been taken by her father.
She and her brothers, she wrote, had grown up in Onalaska, Wis., and she had loved that davenport. Now she lived near her son and a lake, and she had a view of the Rockies. I told her I had grown up in Stuyvesant Town, lived in Riverdale and had a view of the Hudson.