May 12, 2022

The Acapulco Inn, 1980

Note: Since I first published this, Dad told me that the Acapulco Inn was actually in Daytona, and that we went there in 1978. I'm not modifying the post below, however, and everything else in it stands. For now, at least. I will add, however, that I did a little investigating, and learned that this hotel was in operation as the Acapulco Inn until 2017, nearly forty years after we stayed there. The building is still in operation as a hotel, but with a different name and an updated facade. -- Chris, May 15, 2022 (just a few days after finishing and posting the musing below)

In my memory it was pretty great, but in reality this hotel was probably pretty mediocre.

I don't really remember it individually anyway. I know that what my memory offers up to me is an amalgam of Florida hotels that we stayed in; any mental images I have of hotel rooms or pools or lobbies are just as likely to belong to other hotels as to this one. The overall wonderfulness of those Florida vacations – my memory of the amalgam of them, anyway – makes me think that anyplace we stayed must have been wonderful. But, even if the vacations were great, the hotels were probably pretty average.

Every summer when I was a kid we would go to Florida for a week of vacation and stay in a hotel like this one. And, in case it's not already obvious, this is a picture of one of the actual hotels we stayed in, the Acapulco Inn in Panama City Beach, probably 1979 or 1980.

And of this I am certain: it really was a wonderful thing to be a little boy in the 1970s, in the summer, on vacation at the beach with his family. Panama City Beach, Florida, was the best – but then I would probably say that about anywhere we had gone then. But there are reasons I have such great memories of Panama City: The Miracle Strip, a no-longer-there amusement park, was across the street, and there were putt-putt golf places and souvenir shops and pancake houses everywhere. (There was also the beach and the ocean, but, strangely, that's not a big part of my memories of our vacations to Florida.)

And memorable things happened when we were there: one year (1983, actually; I can say this for sure because that's when the movie I'm about to write about was released) when we were in Florida, we went to the mall and saw WarGames, a movie I still love (even if, like the hotels we stayed in, it is in reality probably pretty mediocre). Another time – the year before, I think – while we were at the Panama City Beach mall (apparently we went to that mall a lot), we were in the B. Dalton bookstore and while I was browsing in the science fiction section some random guy recommended a Piers Anthony novel to me, which, probably because it had a cool cover, I did buy and read, and Piers Anthony became for a time one of my favorite writers. Strangely enough, I still associate WarGames with a great Florida vacation, but I don't make that association with Piers Anthony. Probably because we actually saw the movie in Florida, but I didn't read the novel (Split Infinity) until we were back home. Also because WarGames is just one movie, but I went on to read something like twenty-five of Piers Anthony's novels.

Dad's brother Tommy (my uncle, who passed away in 2008) and his wife Kathy (my aunt) and their son Ric (my cousin, about the same age as Jeff) went with us most years. We would get adjoining rooms in the hotel and sort of share our rooms (or at least we did this once, one year, if not every year. I remember watching Princess Di get married on the television in Tommy and Kathy's hotel room–at least, I'm pretty sure that happened (Princess Di did get married, that part I am certain of. It's whether I saw the event in a hotel room in Florida that I wouldn't swear to in a court of law). Wikipedia tells me that Princess Di got married on July 29, 1981, so, if I'm remembering correctly, we were in Panama City on vacation then.)

Our approach to travel, which I've since learned is the way many families approached it at the time, was to head out very early – 4:00am, for example – and get there by noon, so we had much of that day in Florida. I can only imagine how tired Dad must have been after that long drive! One year, probably 1982, I got to do some of the driving – we took the Cadillac that year; I remember it well! – since I had my learner's license and needed some practice.

I'm sometimes sad and disappointed that my own children don't have the same Florida vacation experiences I had. I hope that when they grow up, our regular weekend trips to Rock City and our family outings to Stone Mountain or Zoo Atlanta will occupy as treasured a part of their memories of their childhoods as our trips to Florida do in mine.

January 27, 2022

My Fourth Birthday Party, 1971

Back in mid-November I wrote a musing looking at a picture from my fifth birthday party, and I wrote (among many other things) this:

...the cake was decorated with a plastic horse and cowboy. Sometime after this party, later the same day or the next day, perhaps, I took them out to play with in the neighborhood, and I left them on the curb a street or two away when Mom called me home for supper. I went out to play with them some more, later that day or maybe the next day, I'm not sure, and I was incredulous that they weren't still there on the curb where I'd left them. Someone stole my horse and cowboy from me!

Well, it turns out that the cake I was remembering was from the year before, when I turned four, as shown in this picture--if you look carefully you can see the white-topped plastic wagon I remember playing with atop the cake, and you can kinda-sorta tell there are horses there too. (The green icing on the side of the cake was supposed to be cactuses (cacti?), I think, but I didn't play with those, of course, I just ate them.) It was these decorations, from my fourth birthday party, that I remember being stolen.

Much easier to distinguish in this picture is my cousin Scott, right beside me, with the business end of a cap gun in his mouth. (I'm not actually sure which end of a gun is the "business end," I just really wanted to use that phrase.) Behind him is my aunt Danelle, her head cut off in this picture, holding my brother Jeff and, it appears, a red balloon; Jeff would have been only a little more than a year old here. (You can't tell it's either Danelle or Jeff in this picture, but I have other pictures from this birthday party in which you can.) Also shown in this picture, sitting down and apparently smoking, is a woman whose name I don't remember; she lived in our neighborhood, I think, and was a friend of Mom's. The little boy beside her is her son, whose name I think was Anthony.

This whole affair--my fourth birthday party, I mean--took place, like my fifth birthday party the following year, in the finished basement of our house in Clarkston. I'm sorry to say that I don't really remember this party, except for the sad business of the stolen cake decorations. I do, however, remember the basement well. I have no memory of my bedroom in that house--I was five when we moved away from it, after all--but I do remember the basement clearly, and with great fondness. At least a couple other pictures I have written about here show this basement, and my attraction to basements probably started here. (I also have a fascination with attics, but that isn’t necessarily connected with this basement; I blame by C.S. Lewis and The Magician's Nephew for starting the interest in attics.)

December 16, 2021

Jeff Getting His Hair Cut at Moody's Barber Shop, June 1971

Here we see Mom helping as Jeff gets his hair cut by Chester Moody at Moody's Barber Shop in Scottdale, Georgia, June 1971.

I imagine this was Jeff's first haircut, which is why the moment was preserved in a picture. I'm not sure, however, who actually took this picture; possibly one of Mom's sisters--Jan or Dannelle, most likely--or maybe Dad. I'm sure it wasn't me, though I might have been there that day--but I suspect I was at my grandmother's house or Aunt Lois's--because at four years old, I doubt I would have been trusted to record such an important moment as my brother's first haircut.

This barbershop is also where Mom or Dad took me for the first few years of my life to get my hair cut--including, I'm pretty sure, my first haircut; there's probably a picture of that event too, but I'm not going to go out of my way to find it--and I remember this shop well. It was, or seemed to be, underground, with stairs leading down to the entrance, but I realize now it was built into the side of a hill.

I don't remember Mr. Moody that well, however. I can't picture him (when I try, the face I come up with actually belonged to Milton Vincent), and I can just barely conjure up the feeling of a man's hand clamped to the top of my head as scissors snipped around my ears, and a voice saying, "Hold real still, now" (though I can't actually hear the voice). I must have done a good job of holding still, since I'm pretty sure my ears never got cut. In any case, I know now that, unlike most of the other adults I knew at the time who I just thought were old but were really in their thirties, Mr. Moody really was an old man. He was born in 1912, which means that he was in his late fifties or early sixties back when he used to cut my hair. (That's only a few years older than I am now, but in the early 1970s, sixty was old.)

More remarkably, Mr. Moody was still cutting hair thirty-five years after this picture was taken--and when this picture was taken he had already been a barber for more than twenty years. After picking this picture and these memories for this musing, I did a little research, and I found Chester Moody's obituary online. He lived to be ninety-five years old, and was still cutting hair up until three weeks before his passing in 2007. (I suspect that for the last few years there, he was active as a barber only a few days a month, and probably with only a few very trusting, and probably very near-sighted, long-time customers.)

December 09, 2021

Me in the Lilburn Living Room, 1993

Unlike most of the pictures I pick for these musings, this one is not at least thirty years old. It's not exactly recent, though; I'm just guessing here, but I think this was 1993, so that makes it 28 years old as I write this. (But then, at my age 28 years doesn't seem that long ago, you know?)

I've written this before, but holy crap I used to be skinny! Or at least, back then I weighed probably 75 pounds less than I do now; maybe I wasn't exactly "skinny," but I was closer than I've ever been (as an adult, anyway!). If I tried to put on that shirt today, I doubt I could even get the buttons to meet, much less fasten them.

Speaking of that shirt, I remember buying it, and two or three others just like it but in different colors, at (I think) the Rich's at Perimeter Mall, back when I lived in the townhouse with Scott in Dunwoody. It was more of a sport shirt than a dress shirt, but if I wore it with a tie I could wear it to work (back then, ExecuTrain hadn't yet switched to "business casual," so I had to wear a tie to work every day; once the dress code did become "business casual," I dressed pretty much the same, just without a tie).

I'm not wearing glasses in this picture, which means I had contacts, which apparently I did in the early 1990's. I wore contacts off and on for a period of about 15 years (from 1984 until 1999, a range which seems like it should be more than 15 years to me) (because at my age 15 years doesn't seem...oh, never mind), and apparently this was one of those periods.

That desk on the right side of the frame, the one with Elvis on top of it, is, I'm pretty sure, the desk I used to have in my bedroom. By this point, I had moved out and Mom turned my old bedroom into a sewing room or craft room (or whatever she referred to it as). Mom still has that Elvis figure, and it's on top of a shelving unit in her craft room right now, in fact. I don't know about the Elvis coffee cup, though. Behind me, on the lower shelf on the desk's hutch, most of the way to the left, there's this set of four medical encyclopedias we used to have (which, if they're still in my parents' possession, are probably hopelessly out of date); to the right of those are a few of Mom's old hardback romance/mystery/gothic novels, by people like Phyllis A. Whitney and Rosemary Sutcliff.

On the shelf almost directly below the Elvis coffee cup there's a small framed picture, which you'd never be able to identify from this photograph, and neither would I if not for the fact that I already know what it shows: it's Jeff riding a horse, taken when he took riding lessons a few years earlier, about 1983 I think. I remember that picture well enough that I can tell that's what it is. There's not really anything special about it, but I remember it.

Back on the shelves behind the fireplace are our complete set of then-fifteen-year-old World Book encyclopedias, also probably hopelessly out of date (now for sure, and probably even then). Above that are a bunch of VHS videotapes, including, I'm sure, Jeff's and my complete collection of M*A*S*H episodes (taped off of Channel 2 every afternoon for years), as well as all my Flintstones tapes, and a bunch of stuff we taped off of HBO. At the very top of the shelves, all the way to the left, is a plaster cartoonish cowboy figure, which I think used to be in my room at one point.

Just two or three years after this picture was taken, my parents sold this house and moved to Lawrenceville, so the last time I saw the living room it looked pretty much like this. I doubt it still does--I'm sure it doesn't have an Elvis figure in it, at least not this one, anyway--and I would really love to see what the current owners have done with it in the last couple of decades.

November 18, 2021

My Fifth Birthday Party, 1972

One of the things I notice now, looking at this fifty-year old photograph with the eyes of someone who considers himself to be a decent amateur photographer, with a respectable amount of knowledge about cameras and lenses and how they work, is how close to me the vantage point of this picture appears to be. How did my mother--or whoever took this picture, in the unlikely event it wasn't her--get that close with a fixed-focus Kodak Instamatic camera? Probably she really was just right there with the camera in my face. (It's also possible that this image is a cropped version of a wider original; I can't remember what the actual print looks like right now.)

Whatever the case, this picture certainly does put you right there with me and my birthday cake at this, my fifth birthday party, probably a Saturday afternoon in April, 1972. (I doubt the party was actually on my birthday, though the actual date has probably been lost to history.)

But I do remember this party. It was in the basement of our house in Clarkston, and all my cousins and neighborhood friends and relatives--at least all the ones who didn't have to work, or have some other convenient excuse for getting out of a little boy's birthday party--were there.

What I think I remember--though I admit I may just remember having been told this story over and over so many times that it has the feeling of a genuine memory--is that when I was about to blow out the candles on my cake, my cousin Lorri leaned in and blew them out for me. It was that moment that this picture captures.

What I also think I remember--and this I'm pretty sure is a genuine memory and not an implated one, except that it might have been from the party the year before this one--is that the cake was decorated with a plastic horse and cowboy. Sometime after this party, later the same day or the next day, perhaps, I took them out to play with in the neighborhood, and I left them on the curb a street or two away when Mom called me home for supper. I went out to play with them some more, later that day or maybe the next day, I'm not sure, and I was incredulous that they weren't still there on the curb where I'd left them. Someone stole my horse and cowboy from me! It had genuinely not even occurred to me that someone would do such a thing. But someone did. I think that was the very beginning of my loss of innocence.

One other thing I want to point out in this picture: look at the bottle on the left side of the frame. Pepsi. I have another picture, of another part of the house (the kitchen), at another time (I don't know exactly when), in which a Pepsi bottle is clearly visible. Where we a Pepsi family? Even living in (or near) Atlanta, the birthplace of Coca-Cola? Or maybe there just wasn't a Coke-vs.-Pepsi rivalry back then, and people just bought whatever was most convenient or cheapest. Whatever the explanation, I'm okay with it. To be honest, I slightly prefer Pepsi over Coke; I rather like thinking this bias goes back to when I was just a little kid.

November 11, 2021

Me and My Corolla

Oh, man, that car! It was a 1977 Toyota Corolla that Dad bought new and drove until it was ready to be handed over to me, which happened sometime in late 1983. If you look carefully you can see a 1978 Stone Mountain parking permit on the front bumper. (If you look at my current car, a 2013 Hyundai Elantra, you'll see a 2022 Stone Mountain parking permit on the windshield. Having a Stone Mountain parking sticker on my car is a long-standing tradition with me...but that's a whole 'nother story.)

And look at me! I was young and thin and had my whole life ahead of me. I imagine this was taken only a few months after I passed my driver's license test (thirty-eight years ago as I write this…*sigh*). In the picture I'm not wearing glasses, which tells me this was probably a few months into my eleventh-grade year of school, since that is when I got contacts. I'm wearing the same Junkyard Dog shirt I was wearing in a picture I wrote about a few months ago, the one of me and Scott in Granny's house in Tucker. And it's hard to say for sure, but I think I'm wearing a pair of white K-Mart shoes that had Velcro straps to fasten them instead of conventional laces; my high school friend Kirk Brooks used to call them my Sesame Street shoes.

Not long after this was taken--less than a year after I got my license--I would total this car on Lawrenceville Highway in Lilburn, driving myself and my then-girlfriend Laura to my grandmother's house (yes, the one in Tucker), when I failed to notice that the car in front of me had stopped for the red light. It was terrible.

But that fact doesn't prevent me from having great memories of this car.

November 04, 2021

Christmas Morning with My New B.B. Gun

This is me and Dad in the backyard of our house in Lilburn, Christmas morning, probably 1976 or 1977. Pookie, the dog I had all through school, is on the ground behind Dad, with a tennis ball in his mouth.

I can relate to Ralphie, the main character in the great Christmas movie A Christmas Story (with a screenplay by Jean Shepherd, who adapted it from his book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, and who also provided the voice-over narration). Ralphie longed for a B.B. gun, and when I was about that age, so did I. (Though in the interest of accuracy I will point out that that movie didn't come out until a few years after this picture was taken, and I'd never even heard of the book, so I had no idea I had this in common with the fictional Ralphie.) Every issue of Boy's Life magazine back then featured two or three ads for B.B. guns, and I studied those ads every month like I was preparing for a test.

In this picture you can see that, like Ralphie in the movie, I got my wish for Christmas.

The box Dad is holding is a rubber-backed target--at least I'm pretty sure that's what it is--that either came with the gun or Dad bought for me as part of the present. We set it up against the back fence and did some target practice that morning. I did not shoot my eye out. (Or anyone else's, for that matter.)

In case you can't tell what I'm doing in this picture, I'm pumping the gun to build up pressure and fire power. The manual said that ten pumps was supposed to be the maximum, but I'm pretty sure I used to pump it forty or fifty times to send the B.B. extra far and extra hard. I don't think it actually made a difference; I think that whether I gave it ten pumps or fifty, it shot about the same.

I still have this gun--it's out in the garage somewhere, probably nearly covered in spider webs and leaf debris. It doesn't actually shoot anymore. I can say that for sure because about five years I bought a container of B.B.s and loaded it up, but it wouldn't shoot--ten pumps or fifty, it shot (or didn't shoot) about the same. When I pulled the trigger, the gun made a rather unsatisfying PPFFFTT sound, and the B.B. rolled out of the barrel.

This picture must have been taken by my mother, who I don't remember objecting to my owning a B.B. gun the way Ralphie's mother did in the movie. I'm sure she wanted me to be careful--which I was--and I probably got some standard speech about not shooting people or dogs or birds or squirrels--which I never did--but I doubt Mom thought a whole lot about my B.B. gun. I think it was just accepted by then: little boys had B.B. guns.

On a side note, in this picture Dad would have been in his early thirties, twenty years or so younger than I am now. As I think I've written before, one of the remarkable things about looking back at these old pictures and thinking about those times is not just seeing myself as a kid, but seeing my parents and realizing they were practically still kids themselves.