Mt. Pleasant Library Writers Circle spins yarns from vintage photos
As Patty Miller grasped the glossy, black-and-white photograph, a story began to bloom in her mind about the anonymous man captured in the image, and his suit coat covered with buttons of all sizes.
Among 20 or so photos examined by Miller — a borough resident — that one inspired her to put her pen to paper as part of a recent project undertaken by members of the Mt. Pleasant Public Library Writers Circle.
“Just that man and all those buttons, it just seemed so odd,” Miller said. “I thought, ‘Now how did that happen, with all those buttons?”
Miller and the other members of the circle, which formed in September 2012, delved into the box of hundreds of local images donated to the library which were taken in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, said Tom Beck of Saltlick and one of the circle's members.
“The library was given a large box of old photos, unnamed and unmarked,” Beck said.
While arriving early to the library for one of the circle's recent gatherings, Beck spoke with the facility's director, Mary Lou Shick, who suggested the project to him, he said.
“There were just a lot of different kinds of pictures, so I thought, ‘Wow, maybe the writers circle could have some fun,'” said Shick, adding that she her staff discovered the photos while moving boxes during a re-carpeting of the facility in 2011.
“The button guy, I don't know who he was, but that was just the neatest picture,” she said.
Beck said he then mentioned the idea to borough resident Fred Adams, the group's facilitator, and the project was underway.
“They were professionally done photos that were very well-maintained over the years,” Adams said.
Circle members were each encouraged to select a photo as inspiration for a poem or a short story. Adams called the photos “windows to the past.”
“Even though they are photographs, there was a lot going on all around them,” Adams said. “And your imagination is free to fill in everything outside of the frame to help complete the context of what you see inside the frame.”
Prior to the start of the project, Beck sorted the photographs into various categories based on their respective content.
The images chosen ranged from a soldier kneeling next to the grave of another soldier and a visiting carnival to a boy sitting in a miniature fire truck prior to the start of a parade at nearby locales, Adams said.
“Although we didn't know the person or persons or the true details behind the reason for the picture, we had to use our imagination to elicit that reason,” Beck said.
Miller's fascination about her chosen image spurred her creative inspiration, she said, as the fictional short story “My Grandpap — The Button Man,” soon flowed from her pen.
“I wrote that my mother wanted to throw my grandfather a surprise 50th birthday party,” Miller said.
Told in the first person, the 8-year-old granddaughter in Miller's tale wonders aloud what to give her grandfather, she said.
“I wrote that my grandmother sewed, and that she had this big jar of buttons. I asked her if I could sew him something, and she brought me his suit coat,” Miller said. “Then I sewed the buttons on, wrapped up the jacket and gave it to him.”
The tale's main character expressed joy that his granddaughter made him a gift instead of merely buying one, she said.
“I enjoyed that little writing project,” Miller said.
The photograph Beck selected captured a pile of items gathered for a collection drive during World War II, he said.
“It stirred thoughts of the passing of my father ... a World War II veteran ... and I remembered that scrap drives were an integral part of the war effort,” Beck said.
So Beck based his short story, “Just Junk to Some,” on the patriotism displayed by those who remained at home because they were too young to serve in the war, he said.
Adams, meanwhile, based his piece, “Winged,” on a photograph taken of a military pilot seated in the cockpit of an airplane, he said.
“The look on his face was a mix of confidence and fear. You can tell he knows the risk he is taking every time he takes off. To me, it was a very poignant photo,” Adams said.
Framed copies of the photos, stories and poems they inspired are currently on display at the library located at 120 S. Church St.
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.