June 01, 2023

Me and Dad on My Birthday, 1978

I can't say for sure that this was my birthday, or indeed anyone's birthday. Maybe it was just some random day during my childhood when we had cake. With candles. And I got to blow out the candles.

Okay, I'm pretty sure this picture was taken on my birthday.

I'm also pretty sure it was taken in 1978 because of the shirt I'm wearing. I wrote about this in another musing; I got that shirt for Christmas when I was in fifth grade (which would have been in 1977), and my best friend Bobby Py got an identical shirt, and we spent the rest of the school year (until he moved away, anyway, in my memory near the end of the school year) trying to coordinate us wearing the same shirt to school on the same day. I don't think we ever managed it; I think the only day that both of us wore that shirt to school on the same day was sometime in January, when we both realized we had gotten the same shirt for Christmas.

So this picture was probably taken on or around my birthday in April of 1978, just a few months after Christmas of 1977.

Speaking of shirts, which I was just a few words ago, I also remember the shirt that Dad's wearing. I think he wore that shirt often. In fact, though this is probably not accurate, right now as I type this I picture him in that shirt in nearly every photograph we have from the 1970's or '80's. (Several hours later, I just looked through all of my scanned pictures in search of another picture of Dad wearing this shirt, and came up with nothing.)

But enough about shirts; now let's look at the house, and at us. In this picture, we are in the kitchen of our house in Lilburn, where at this point we had lived for five years, sitting at the table (which was round), right in front of the double folding doors that hid our washer and dryer (and I think also the water heater). Right behind us, visible between our heads, are some shirts that had come out of the dryer and been put on hangers and hung up (so as not to wrinkle, I imagine), but not yet put away to whatever closets they belonged in.

Dad is holding a book of matches, and is only 33 years old in this picture – more than 20 years younger than I am now. Mom, who is probably taking this picture, and who probably made the cake and hung up the shirts, but who is not otherwise seen in this picture, was 31 at the time. I don't know where Jeff was; he would have been eight then.

May 18, 2023

Three Views of a Christmas Morning

Some of my memories of my childhood are not actual memories of my childhood – they are an awareness of what's in the pictures Mom took of my childhood. And, as I think I've written before, I am grateful that Mom took so many pictures while I was growing up, and that we still have them all. (In fairness to Dad, I must say that probably a few of the pictures we have were actually taken by him, such as any picture that has Mom in it, but I'm pretty sure the majority of our family photos were taken by Mom.)

So I'm glad to have these pictures of Christmas morning fifty years ago, even though I think I do have actual (albeit vague) memories of this day. I don't remember the blue housecoat I'm wearing in the picture at the top, but I do remember the feeling of relief and joy upon finally being allowed -- after being up and waiting in suspense in my room probably half of the night, if not all of it -- into the den, the room in which Santa Claus laid out our presents, to find a veritable treasure trove of goodness. I even remember some of the things that Santa Claus laid out in that corner of the den. In fact, I still have the sleeping bag that's forming a square on the floor in the picture on top, which you probably can't tell from this picture has Winnie-the-Pooh characters on it. I used it for years, and now it sits rolled up in my closet, ripped in several places, much of its stuffing coming out.

Sitting atop the Winnie-the-Pooh sleeping bag in the picture is a box containing a toy pistol and a holster – yes, it was a different time back then, when people gave realistic-looking toy guns to children to play with, some of them cap guns that made a realistic shot sound, and then turned those children loose to play Cops and Robbers or Cowboys and Indians, both of which required the kid lucky enough to have the pistol and holster around his waist to shoot his friends, punctuating each pretend shot with a shout of "Bang!" (unless you had a cap gun to do the "Bang!" for you), and the kids that were hit by those imaginary bullets knew it was their job to tumble to the ground and play dead, and to stay dead until they came back to life and it was their turn to do the shooting.

I kind of hope kids don't play like that anymore, but I also mourn the passing of that kind of mixed innocence and worldliness. And, man, I wanted to be a cowboy so bad! I know now that my fantasies about being a cowboy featured a lot fewer cows and a lot more guns than the real thing, I know that now, but I also mourn the passing of the cowboy as an iconic part of childhood.

And trains, like cowboys, don't seem to be as much a part of the current cultural landscape as they used to be. Fifty years ago, though, they were a pretty significant part of childhood, as evidenced by the second picture above, in which Jeff sits both surrounded by toys and in the middle of a circle of toy train track – some of which I believe I still have. I might even have the engine shown in the picture; I'm not sure how much of what I have in a box in the garage is in this picture.

The top picture shows Dad, then only about twenty-eight years old (half my current age!), sitting at our dining room table and playing with a shooting gallery game. You can also see a small (I'm tempted to say tiny) pool table game in the picture, and just barely visible on the right side of the frame is Jeff in his bright red pajamas. On the wall beside Dad is the matador decoration, which was accompanied by a charging bull decoration. I remember that matador well, and also, I think, a painting of a conquistador, and a mounted metal pseudo-sword (not sharp) and mace (not removable from its mounting board) adorning the walls. For a long time, whenever I heard the Procol Harum song "Conquistador," I thought of those wall decorations in our den when I was young.

But enough about Procol Harum, back to the pictures: I vaguely remember the shooting game Dad's playing, don't remember the pool-table game at all, but I remember well the camper/RV (for Little People? Weebles? That detail I don't recall.) you can see in the middle picture, and also the one near it that I think was a Little People airport.

How wonderful it was to be young and innocent and to live in such a time and place at Christmas!

May 11, 2023

Sharon and Jeff, 1972

As of just a few days ago, it's been nine years – nine years; almost a decade! – since my cousin Sharon (in this picture from half a century ago only about nine years old herself) departed this plane of existence for the afterlife after a year-long battle with brain cancer.

It's hard to believe Sharon's been gone for that long, but in a way it's also hard to believe that there once was a 1972, when Sharon was only nine (or ten, depending on when this picture was taken) and my brother Jeff (shown here cutely wearing Sharon's sandal) was still in diapers.

I don't know the story behind this picture, beyond the obvious: Sharon put her sandal on Jeff, which Mom thought was cute so she took a picture of it. There are pillows, bed pillows, on the sofa behind them; had someone spent the night with us? Had Danelle come over to visit Mom and brought her kids? (At this point, Danelle had only two kids, Sharon and Catherine; Heather hadn't yet been born.) Were Catherine and I down in the basement playing, as I remember doing often when she came over?

This would have been our house in Clarkston, shortly before we moved briefly to Maryland for Dad's job and then returned, nine months later, not happy being so far away from family and friends and the part of the world we (or at least Mom and Dad) knew and felt comfortable in, and moved into the house in Lilburn.

May 04, 2023

Me and Papa, 1967

What strikes me now, looking at this fifty-five-year-old picture of me (before I had even had my first birthday!) and my grandfather, my father's father, who has been gone now for more than thirty years, is that he was younger in this picture (by a few months, anyway) than I am now as I write this.

I realize that's the kind of thing I always say in these musings: "Hey, look how young everybody used to be! We aren't that young anymore!" And it's always true. As Mitch Hedburg once said, every picture of you is a picture of you when you were younger. But sometimes, pictures show you when you were really younger, and they also show other people when they were much younger, too, maybe even younger than you are now, as is the case here.

The other thing (or at least one other thing) that strikes me, is that my grandfather always looked like this. He may have looked a little younger when he was younger, and a little older when he was older, but he always looked like this--and dressed like this, too.

April 21, 2023

Me and Jeff and Pookie in the Backyard in Lilburn on a Snowy Day, circa 1978

Elyse complains that it doesn't snow enough down here in Georgia, and it's true that it doesn't snow that much. But it does snow sometimes, and sometimes the snow even sticks and accumulates enough to make a snowman, or at least a giant snowball, as proven by this forty-five year old photograph.

You can't see Jeff at all in this picture, so enveloped by winter clothing was he, but that's him there beside me, looking more like a Jawa than a younger brother. You can see my dog, Pookie, who was even smaller than I remember, and who looks like he didn't want to be held then, or maybe didn't want to be placed atop a giant snowball. You can also see some of the original siding of the house, which was green and has since been replaced by something that I think is vinyl (though I'm not positive since my parents sold the house 28 years ago, and it was someone else who replaced it) and is sort of yellowish. And if you look closely at the window on the very right side of the frame, you can see the window-unit air conditioner, which for all of my youth was all the air conditioning we had (and more air conditioning than some people had). Man, when it was hot outside, cranking that thing up and closing all the doors so the living room got really cool was heaven!

I don't remember this picture being taken (it was probably Mom who took it), or this day, or this snow. I don't know if this was a weekday and school was canceled because of the weather (and, here in Georgia, at least, whenever it snows this much, you can be sure school will be canceled), or if this was a weekend. I don't even particularly remember it snowing very often when I was a kid–and it probably didn't; we just have pictures like this because that's when Mom was most inclined to take pictures.

But I do remember being a kid, and playing with Jeff and Pookie in the backyard, and I'm grateful I had that, and that I have these photographs to remind me of that time.

April 13, 2023

Two Pictures of Me from 1995

I had a birthday recently, and I turned the age that happens to be the age I was in these pictures multiplied by two. Yes, when these pictures were taken, 28 years ago, I was 28. Now I'm 56.

Or to say the same thing a different way, these pictures were taken half my lifetime ago.


When these pictures were taken, I lived in an apartment off of Holcomb Bridge Road in Roswell (one of these pictures was taken outside of that apartment, one of them inside it; both were probably taken by my friend Pearl, with whom I shared the apartment); just a few months later I bought my house in Lawrenceville and moved. Four years later I met Anna, and six years after these pictures were taken – only six years! – Anna and I got married.

It all seems (as I've said before about other matters) both like a million years ago and like yesterday.


But right now I want to focus on the T-shirts I'm wearing in these pictures: I remember that Lorax T-shirt, though I don't remember where I got it, and I also remember that Cindy Brady T-shirt, and I do know where that one came from.

Through the whole decade of the 1990s, I worked for ExecuTrain Corporation – one of the best jobs I've ever had – and my bosses at ExecuTrain often rewarded us for good work with tickets to various things. For example, in 1992 or so I saw Brigadoon at the Fox because I had done a good job on something or other and they gave me two tickets to go see it. I barely remember it, but it starred John Schneider (a name you might recognize from "The Dukes of Hazzard," a show I'm a little embarrassed to admit I sometimes watched in the late 1970s). Sometime in 1993 I was rewarded with tickets to go see "The Real Live Brady Bunch" at, I think, Center Stage, and I bought this T-shirt there. ("The Real Live Brady Bunch" didn't actually involve anyone who had been in the original "Brady Bunch" TV show 25 years earlier, as its name kind of implies; instead, it was a weird live performance of an episode of "The Brady Bunch" like it were a Chekhov play or something. The one I saw – maybe the only one they ever did in Atlanta – was "Oh, My Nose!" (I think that's what it's called), in which Marcia gets hit in the face with a football and her nose swells up. It was fun, going to "The Real Live Brady Bunch," I mean, but I'm glad the tickets were free.)

Also, for whatever it's worth, in the picture with the Cindy Brady T-shirt I'm wearing my Cookie Monster watch, which I had bought a couple of years earlier at the Sesame Street store at Gwinnett Place Mall, and which I still have (though it no longer works, unfortunately). In the other picture, I believe I'm wearing a Donald Duck watch. I used to collect character watches, and I still have a few (though none of them works).

I don't have either of those T-shirts anymore, though. I wish I did.

March 16, 2023

My Brother Was a Monkey

My brother was a monkey.

Not really, of course. But many years ago – many years ago, like forty-five or so – he liked to climb things, like this chair in my grandmother's house:

and this tree in my grandmother's backyard:

Also shown in this picture are my cousins Carrie and Heather

and this door frame in my grandmother's house:


Come to think of it, maybe he was only a monkey at my grandmother's house!

In any case, what I prize about old photographs like these is not just that they remind us what we used to be like – including the fact that my brother was a monkey, which I had completely forgotten – but also that they remind us what the places we used to spend our time were like. I especially love pictures taken at my grandmother's house; I always see things in them I hadn't thought about in years – like the painting of the man praying over his bread on the wall of that eating area just behind Jeff in the second door-frame-climbing picture; and the flowerdy wallpaper on that same wall; and the flowerdy curtains and flowerdy seat-cushion in that same room, which you can't see in the bottom picture of Jeff clinging to the top of the door frame, but which you can see through the open door on the right side of the frame in the first picture above, the chair-climbing picture, and which you can see (the curtains, at least) have been changed by the time the third picture above, the one where Jeff is preparing to climb the door frame, was made, two or three years later; and the black bell on the wall just beside the door frame Jeff is climbing; and the black telephone mounted to the wall on the other side of the door frame; and the lighting fixtures; the plastic plants; the furniture…. It's all precious to see now, and it all fills me with that combination of happiness and melancholy that is nostalgia.

I've written this before, but though there are many wonderful things about my life now, sometimes I really miss the life I had forty-five years ago. And not just because my brother was a monkey.

And also not because, apparently, Tab was readily available back then.