- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 17, 2017

LEOLA, Pa. (AP) - It was a sunny September morning in 1977 when a little girl and her brother looked up from playing in the side yard of their eastern Lancaster County home. A yellow sports car had pulled to the side of the road just beside the house, and a young man stepped out carrying a big camera. He wasn’t looking at them, though, but at a neighbor boy riding bareback across the road.

The photographer snapped a quick picture of the boy and his horse, then turned around. He noticed the girl watching him, her blonde hair plaited into a neat braid, her homemade dress, and the boy, his sensible overalls and rubber-soled sneakers. The photographer spoke to the children, probably saying hello and asking what they were playing, before pointing his camera and clicking off two more frames, saying goodbye, getting into his yellow car and driving off.

That afternoon, the Lancaster New Era, one of the daily precursors to LNP, hit the streets, tens of thousands of copies of the paper, each with a photo of the little girl and her brother. The next year the picture would win that photographer, Richard Hertzler, first place in Pennsylvania for a portrait or personality photo in an Associated Press contest. The photo negatives would get filed away for decades, Hertzler would continue to take photos and, until a few months ago, Alice Weaver never knew that her image had charmed so many people all those years ago.

Then Paul Reiff bought Hertzler’s photography book, “My Lancaster County,” began paging through and stopped at the photo of a moment captured in black and white, two children standing by their garden gate.

‘I think I know her’

Reiff and his wife, Verna, wanted to buy a copy of Hertzler’s book, but the conservative couple don’t own a computer, nor do they drive a car. Reiff called the newsroom, and Hertzler agreed to drive a copy out to the Reiffs’ farm near Leola.

“I think I know her,” Paul Reiff told Hertzler as he peered closer at the old photo, something that didn’t surprise his wife. “He studies these pictures, he knows the people and places,” Verna Reiff says. “Let me know if you find her,” Hertzler told the Reiffs as he left that day.

And it wasn’t long before Hertzler came in to work to a message from Paul Reiff: “That girl was Alice. If you’d like to meet her, call me back.”

‘I’m wondering if I’d have recognized this’

The slender dogwood sapling in the corner of the photo is, 40 years on, a mature tree. The windmill’s been moved; the old-fashioned metal fence is gone; even the road that runs by the house has been relocated. The little boy in the photo is all grown up and now lives in Iowa.

But that little girl still lives in this same house near the intersection of Peace Road and Hershey Avenue, though she’s now married, to Alan Weaver, and is herself a mother.

The fifth of 12 children, Alice Weaver says she and her brother, Daniel, probably were playing outside while their mother was inside tending to younger siblings. At ages 5 and 3, they still were too young to be attending the two-room Penn Johns school nearby.

Much of the surrounding farmland remains rural, though Alan Weaver says they probably see as many vehicles pass by in an hour as they did in an entire day 40 years ago. “We used to play in the road,” Alice says, when they weren’t doing chores like picking produce or caring for the farm’s steers, pigs and chickens.

So when they looked up from playing to see the long-haired man and the yellow sports car, “We probably thought you were a hippie,” Alice tells Hertzler, laughing. “I have a feeling (Hertzler) talked to us,” she says, pointing out her brother’s uncharacteristically bashful expression in the picture and her own half-shy pose.

Gazing down at the image of a younger Alice and Daniel, a 40-year-old flash of a moment, Alice Weaver muses aloud, “I’m wondering if I’d have recognized this” if she had simply stumbled across the image. There weren’t many photos taken when she was growing up, she says, remembering a candid Polaroid someone once took and a sparse handful of other occasions, and few of those memories on film remain. No one in the community saw the photo in the paper, she says or, if they did, she didn’t know about it.

But there was something in the forehead and eyes of the young girl that sparked recognition for Paul Reiff, who is a distant relative of Alice‘s. And to check out his hunch he didn’t have to travel far, just a couple turns and then a quick trot in the buggy past Brethren Church Road.

Meeting Alice after all these years has been a thrill for Hertzler, who says it’s the first time he’s ever gotten to re-meet a photo subject like this. “It’s like going back in a time machine, to see her in the photo and her now,” he says. It is, he adds, “just such a Lancaster County story - their lives are so different than mine, but we’re all here together, we’re all what ‘make’ this area.”

There were so many details, he says, that had to fall into place for it to happen. The photo of Alice and Daniel wasn’t initially part of the book until Hertzler’s wife, Michele, reminded him about it and told him it was one of her favorites. If the Reiffs had anonymously bought the book online, Hertzler wouldn’t have had the chance to visit their farm and talk about the photo. If the Reiffs and Weavers didn’t move in the same circles, or if she had moved away, could Paul Reiff have tracked her down?

On a recent weekday afternoon, the Weavers, Reiffs and Hertzler visited in the cozy living room of the farmhouse Alice’s grandfather built. The dogwood sapling from the photo is visible through the window, its long, gnarled branches now bare for winter. Then Alice Weaver, with her childhood face looking up at her from an enlarged print of Hertzler’s photo on her lap, glances sideways and smiles at something her husband says - and, for just a moment, the smile of 5-year-old Alice and adult Alice meet, their expressions just the same.

___

Online:

https://bit.ly/2iTYP3m

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