My mother found a photo.
It’s of my Great Great Grandfather and his family.
He was born in 1855, so, by roughly guestimating his age in the picture, I’d say that it was taken in about 1890. I’m sure there are loads of boring things I could do on the Internet to verify dates and stuff, but for now just go with me that it was old. Very old.
She told me about this, and I was quite excited. I’ve got quite interested in ‘family’ lately.
Then I pulled it out of the envelope.
It took me a couple of seconds to focus before I recoiled in horror. Had I been in a film, I would have leapt back several feet, breaking a priceless Ming vase in the process, but for now you’ll just have to make do with a simple recoil.
To put it delicately, my Great Great Grandfather, Great Great Grandmother and their two kids, one of whom was presumably my Great Grandfather/Mother were... well... that it to say...
They were not exactly lookers.
People didn’t used to smile for photos in those days, which might have accentuated the negative (ho ho), and of course there was a certain amount of fading. However, as my head swam and I clutched the offending image in disbelief, I had to admit to myself that not only were my ancestors not the beautiful yet hardy frontierspeople that I’d imagined, but that everything that I had previously read about evolution was wrong.
In one of the early Tom and Jerry cartoons, before they got rubbish, there’s a lovely bit where Tom pegs it at full speed round a corner, only to be hit full on in the face by a steam-iron, held by Spike the dog. Tom’s face, of course, flattens itself into a steam-iron shape as he blinks in confusion.
This was my Great Great Grandmother. This pitiful yet sinister steam-iron squashed face creature glared out of the picture at me like some mutant refugee from the Cursed Earth.
The children glowered from the front. Both had wide, stretched, frog-like mouths as if they’d been brought up for ten years in a Chernobyl wind tunnel.
The girl, aside from that, wasn’t too bad in a Christina Ricci-in-the-Addams-Family sort of way, but her brother seemed to have a head that had been moulded from papier-mache, not set properly and, perhaps, reversed over several times by a large Transit van packed with heavy furniture.
My Great Great Grandfather seemed human. That is to say that most of his face was obscured by a massive WG Grace type beard, so really it was just his eyes and nose showing. He seemed to carry an indescribable air of sadness about him, which is not surprising given his family circumstances.
So there we go.
I replaced the picture, my head full of wonder at my monkey-featured ancestors.
And how, in just over one hundred years, the miracle of evolution has propelled me to the other extreme.