Monday, October 25, 2010

Somebody's Ancestor

Slowly, but surely, I'm making my way back to the blog.  I write posts in my head often, especially whenever I have new finding or aha moment in my research (which I also haven't been doing a ton of, lately).  I just wanted to "creep" back in tonight to share something that I ran across while having brunch with my daughter yesterday.  We were in a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Richmond, VA, and we just happened to be seated at a table just under this portrait:

From the second I sat down, this young woman had my attention.  (And, given the fact that it took the waitress ten minutes to even come and greet me while I was sitting alone waiting for my daughter to arrive, I can say that I was definitely feeling like she and I were making a connection!)  No matter how hard I tried to look away from her, and busy myself with something else, like checking my email on my phone, or just doing some people-watching, I couldn't stray away from her gaze.  She had me. 

So much was going through my mind, most of which, I'm sure needs no explanation for most who are reading this.  Who was this woman?  When was the picture/portrait made?  Had she been a slave?  A free Black?  Who made this picture of her?  Was this the original frame?  How did Cracker Barrel get this?  WHO IS HER FAMILY?

Yep, that was the big one.  Who is her family?  Would they even know who she was if they were the ones sitting under her portrait?  Could she even be an ancestor of mine?

Finally, I averted my eyes away from the portrait and began to look around the restaurant.  I hadn't been into a Cracker Barrel in years - not since before 2004 when the infamous mouse-in-the-soup fiasco occured in my area.  My family and I used to eat in CB when the kids were young, but I'd never paid much attention to the decor in any of the restaurants back then.  But now, as I glanced all around me, I noticed that, in amongst the many antiquities that graced the walls of the eatery, there were scattered portraits of many ancestors - men, women, and children of all ages, all appearing to be in 19th century (or earlier) garb!  WHO WERE THESE PEOPLE?  WHO DO THEY BELONG TO?

I turned my attention back to my lady, who seemed to be begging me with her eyes to do s-o-m-e-t-h-i-n-g, but what?  Just about this time, my waitress finall made an appearance.  I ordered coffee and a manager. (I'll bet she was skeeered!)  The gentleman appeared promptly, and my inquisition began.

As it turns out, the manager didn't know exactly where the portraits came from, but he did point out to me that each one is tagged with a number and other identifying information, and that if I was interested in knowing more, I could contact their corporate office to find out where each one came from, and if there is a name or any other identifier associated with a particular portrait.  I asserted my suspicion that the pictures may have been acquired from thrift shops and/or estate sales, and Mr. Manager agreed that this was a possibility.  He also offered that he has been told that an effort has been made to see that the decor for each restaurant is reflective of the area in which it is located, and he suggested that perhaps the portraits had been acquired locally.  Hmmmm....

So now, I have yet another item added to my "to-do" list.  I don't know when I'll get around to it, but I certainly will contact the CB Corporate Offices to find out more about this, and I urge anyone reading this to pay close attention to the wall hangings on your next vist to Cracker Barrel!

Addendum: (November 3, 2010)
I did send a communication to Cracker Barrel's Corporate Office (Customer Relations) to inquire about the portrait.  Here's the disappointing (and less than helpful response I got:

Thank you for taking the time to share your comments with all of us here at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. We're always pleased to hear from our guests.
The tag numbers are inhouse inventory numbers for tax purposes so that we can identify which store has what decor items. However, the decor peices have been purchased throughout the years at estate sales and auctions.
We look forward to seeing you in one of our locations again soon.

Jason Hill
Guest Relations Representative
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc.

Well, of course I sent a reply, clarifying my original questions, but I haven't heard anything back yet.  It seems my mystery lady might remain just that... a mystery.