• Shae Bryant

The Women of the Tin Photo

A photo of "The Miller Sisters." Another group of strong women I am descended from.

Many readers will find parts of The Tin Photo difficult to read. In the book, we see accounts of abuse and prejudices against others. As hard as those scenes were to write, I wrote them because they happened.

They didn't just happen to people in history books. Those events happened to people I am closely related to. My Great Grandfather, my Great Grandmother, my Grandfather and my Great Aunts and Uncles all lived through these events. I did not know my biological Great Grandfather, and you will find out why in the book itself.

I did know my Great Grandmother. She was a Serbian immigrant who arrived in the United States when she was 10. I knew her as a plump and stout woman with a round face, high cheekbones and gray hair sitting on her shoulders in large barrel curls. By the time I came around, she had the distinct dialect of Appalachia with light traces of her native tongue. I only knew her for eleven short years, but I feel like I met her as I put this book together.

I met more women that have made me proud to be related to them. I met my Great Great Grandmother, and I found her strength as she traveled across the ocean with her young son to meet her husband in America. I discovered a deep fear that I will never fully understand, because her Jewish Faith was not passed down through her sons. Through that same fear, I also discovered a freedom she found when she came to the United States.

Through her, I discovered the unsung heroes of the story. She and her daughters-in-law held together a family that struggled through one world war and one great economic crash. They banded together to help each other, making sure everyone was fed and clothed.

I met a younger version of my Grandmother as I collected the stories of her life in West Virginia and New York. I was in awe at her strength when she lived alone and pregnant in a strange city while her husband was away. Her unwavering love and devotion to her husband was a romance that no one could write. The two of them began at a skating rink in Logan, West Virginia, and their love blossomed from the first day.

My Great Aunts became much more than just women I had seen on family visits. Their stories finished a puzzle that had been missing pieces for over 80 years. Their life and past came alive in a way I had never expected. I got to know them better as I wrote this book. Sadly, one of my Great Aunts died recently. The other is still alive and well today.

No, I don't know the full extent of what these women lived through. But I learned about their deeds through history itself, public records and first-hand accounts of my family members. I often joke that I "come from a long line of hillbillies, coal miners, moonshiners, bootleggers and farmers." I also come from a long line of women who held their heads high and faced every trial head-on. I come from a line of some serious bad-asses! I am very glad to have met each of them through the pages of this book.