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.

September 23, 2021

Me and Dad at Six Flags around 1975

It's hard to believe that when this picture was taken, Six Flags was only seven or eight years old.

To someone of my generation, the amusement park Six Flags – or Six Flags Over Georgia, to use its full name (though no one ever really does) – seems to have always been there, enticing us to visit it, encouraging us to keep our Coke cans to save on our entry fee, promising us the danger and thrill of getting soaked on a log ride or risking (but surely not actually getting) life-threatening injuries on a roller coaster. But it wasn't always there, of course; in fact, Six Flags opened the year I was born, 1967, so the amusement park and I are the same age. I can remember talking about going there with some of my friends in second grade – somehow we had become convinced that there was a whale living in the lake at the park (which I realize now was probably not true); I don't think any of us realized then that the park was only a few years old. Not that that would have mattered to us; seven years is a pretty long time to someone who is only seven years old.

I don't remember the specific trip to Six Flags on which this picture was made; I have other pictures that must have been made around the same time – maybe the year before or after this one; maybe even the same summer – but I can tell they were different visits because in those pictures I'm wearing different clothes than I am in this one. Six Flags looms large enough in my memories of the 1970s that I know we must have gone there many times, even though it's all the way on the other side of Atlanta from where we lived.

This picture shows me and Dad on the Hanson Cars, an antique-car ride on which you steer low-powered old-timey-looking cars (fancy go karts, really) on a track that looks somewhat like a road and which metal guides in the asphalt prevent you from leaving. (In fact, I think the steering is optional; as long as you accelerate, the metal guide will ensure your path along the track – though it is less jerky if you do steer.) I know now, after reading about Six Flags on Wikipedia, that the Hanson Cars ride was one of the original attractions in the park when it opened in 1967, as was the Dahlonega Mine Train (a sort of mini roller coaster). The Great American Scream Machine, or just the Scream Machine as we called it when I was in elementary school, opened in 1973 (the same year I started first grade); it seemed such an integral part of the park that I probably believed it had always been there.

Not that I ever rode the Scream Machine, at least not back then (though I think I did ride it a couple of times in 1993 or '94, when I went there in my late 20s after not having been for fifteen year or so). When I was a kid I wanted to go to Six Flags all the time, but mostly I would ride only the gentlest of rides. I did ride the Dahlonega a few times, but that was fast enough for me you couldn't have gotten me on a full-size roller coaster or the Great Gasp or any of those other thrill rides for anything. The ride I remember the best was "Tales of the Okefenokee," a "dark ride" on which you rode in a boat through scenes of animatronic, anthropomorphic swamp critters that seems in retrospect like a combination of the cartoon sequences from The Song of the South (minus all the racist stuff, I sure hope) and Walt Kelly's Pogo comic strip. Or maybe like the "Hillbilly Bears" and the "Possible Possum" cartoons I used to see on TV every day after school. (Anthropomorphized mountain/swamp/country animals, especially bears and rabbits, were part of the zeitgeist of the second half of the 20th century, apparently.)

I think an ideal Six Flags experience for me when I was ten would have been to ride "Tales of the Okefenokee" about ten times, eat some ice cream, and then play ski ball for four hours. In truth, though, I only remember with clarity one visit to Six Flags when I did play ski ball: when I was in fifth grade, we went to Six Flags one Friday after school with Jan and Richard, I think for an AT&T-sponsored event (or BellSouth, or whatever that company was called back then; it was where Richard worked, but I’m sure that meant nothing to me at the time). All I really recall about that trip was playing ski ball and trying to win enough tickets to trade in for...I don't know, a Cadillac, I think. I didn't make it, of course. In fact, I don't think I traded my tickets in for any prize at all; I think I kept them with the intention of going back again soon and then getting enough tickets to get the Cadillac. Instead I don't think I went back to Six Flags for about fifteen years.

I don't know what happened to the ski ball tickets. Probably Mom threw them away a couple of days later, when I was back at school, and I've just now, more than forty years later, realized it.

I went to Six Flags just three or four years ago, with Anna and the kids. A lot of it has changed, but you know what hasn't? The smell. It smelled like Six Flags – not a bad smell at all; a good smell, an exciting smell. Smelling that, I was ten again.

But I still went home without a Cadillac.

Oh, and by the way, the Hanson Cars ride is still there, and so is the Dahlonega Mine Train.

(In the interest of complete honesty, I feel I should admit that they don’t really have Cadillacs among the prizes you can get in the games pavillion, no matter how many tickets you get.)

Bonus: Here are some pictures that one of my parents took in the "Tales of the Okefenokee" ride sometime in the 1970s:

(Yes, it's a rabbit milking a cow. No, I don't know why.)

September 16, 2021

Me, at home, in a T-shirt and plaid flannel shirt, circa 1987

Unlike most of the pictures I choose for these musings, I am (almost, kinda-sorta) an adult in this one. I think I was about 20 when this was taken, probably some time in 1987, maybe 1988. I was out of high school and in college but still living in the house I grew up in in Lilburn, about which I’ve written quite a bit before.

The T-shirt says Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and has the MGM lion on it. I used to wear that shirt a lot. Dad brought it back for me from a trip to California back when he worked for TBS. I was wearing a plaid flannel shirt over it because...because I always wore plaid flannel shirts over my T-shirts--it was part of the 1980s-long-haired-guy uniform. I was also wearing bracelets and a dangly earring--other parts of the uniform. (And jeans, of course. I always wore jeans back then--I don't think I owned any pants then that weren't jeans. Now I never wear jeans--I don't own a pair of pants that are jeans.)

When this was taken, I think I had already started going to Georgia State University, but it was right after my two years at DeKalb College (as it was known then), which were two great years (or so my selective memory leads me to believe). Though I know this picture was taken a couple of years after the fact, it makes me think of the fall of 1985, my first quarter at DeKalb, and taking Philosophy in the Nursing building--I loved that class, with Dr. Yohan (Shan Yohan; her husband, Walter, also a philosophy professor at DeKalb, had retired a year or two earlier. I know this only because Rod Bennett, whom I met in that class, once told me that somebody told him to be sure to take philosophy with Dr. Yohan, and when he did he was disappointed to find out the professor was the wife and not the husband.)

I was also taking the Mercer continuing-ed creative writing class at night with Jalaine, and finding new writers to admire and emulate (Bobbie Ann Mason stands out as an early favorite, but there was also Raymond Carver and Amy Hempel and others). Back then I used to actually write--I mean, write short stories, poems, parts of novels (these blog entries and musings count, but it just isn't the same thing--I know I'm not creating literature here). I even published a handful of short stories back then, too (but mostly in tiny basement-copy-machine little magazines that nobody's ever heard of, though I racked up quite a few rejection slips from university-sponsored literary magazines).

One thing that freaks me out when I do the math: If this picture really was taken in 1987, then it was only about fourteen years before I married Anna. As I sit here writing this, Anna and I have been married for twenty years. So the Chris Burdett in this picture is closer in age to the Chris Burdett who got married to Anna Benoit in 2001 at St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Lawrenceville than the Chris Burdett who is writing this is. Man, do I feel old!

I like the guy in this picture. He still had some growing up to do (maybe he still does) and some stuff to learn (maybe he still does), but he was an okay guy. Hopefully he still is.

September 08, 2021

My First Computer

My brother, Jeff, playing a game on our Apple II home computer in the early 1980s

My first computer was a 1980 Apple II that Dad bought for us, back when he worked for a local computer store that was an Apple dealer (in addition to selling Compaq and Kaypro, and some other brands that are no longer around -- Apple obviously is). This distinction probably isn't something many people these days would recognize as important, but it was an Apple II -- not an Apple II+ or an Apple IIe, and certainly not an Apple IIc -- that model didn't come out until a few years later.

No, it was just a plain old Apple II; for a monitor you connected it to a TV set via an RF modulator, its character set didn't include lower-case letters, and it had to go into a different mode to display graphics than it used to display text. The Apple II did have color, though, which set it apart from many of the other home computers around at that time, but since we used an old black and white TV as our monitor, we couldn't tell the difference: the frogs in Frogger were a light gray to us.

But even if we were watching grayscale frogs hop across grayscale traffic to hop onto the backs of grayscale alligators, we at least had a computer, which was not true of very many families back at the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s.

Yes, it was a computer, at least technically, but it was nothing like the ones we're used to today. In those days 64KB of RAM -- not 64MB, and definitely not 64GB -- was a lot. In fact, I think we started with just 4K (back then you didn't indicate the B; I guess "bytes" was understood) and worked our way up by taking the cover off and plugging RAM chips into the available slots. For the first year or two, we read programs into that memory from a cassette drive, but Dad eventually (perhaps fairly quickly, I really don't remember the exact timeline of all this) brought home a floppy disk drive, and then another, making it much faster for us to boot up Space Invaders or Frogger or whatever game we felt like playing. (These were 5 1/4 -- pronounced "five and a quarter" -- inch floppy drives and disks, by the way, and they held something like 512K per side, which at the time really was a lot.)

Games were mostly what we used the Apple II for: the already-mentioned Space Invaders and Frogger, Lemonade Stand, and quite a few I'm sure I've forgotten. In the picture above, Jeff is playing one of these games, probably Space Invaders, holding the paddle in his lap (the Apple had a dedicated port for paddles, I imagine because games like those were probably its most common use).

I made grand plans when I learned we were going to be getting the computer but didn't yet have it, back in sixth grade, of becoming a programming whiz and creating a computerized version of Monopoly (and possibly getting rich and famous, though I don't think I actually thought about that possibility very much). I would pore over the pamphlets and manuals (Dad managed to bring home a copy of a manual before we got the actual computer) and scheme and fantasize and dream.

Scheme and fantasize and dream, but not do any real planning, other than a few inept sketches of what the screen should look like, and I never wrote even a single line of code for my Monopoly game. I did become a decent BASIC programmer, though, and I did write a game that involved guns you would move around with your paddle, and bullets that could either take out the other gun, or disappear into the cactus in the middle of the screen (it was my sole gimmick, in this game at least) only to be shot out again from the cactus in some new, randomly-chosen direction. I also wrote a program that drew letters on the screen, creating a lower-case character set the computer then lacked. (It couldn't save what you wrote, though -- I didn't know how to make it do that -- so it was not a "word processor" or "text editor" by any stretch of the imagination.) And when I was taking chemistry at Berkmar (in 11th or 12th grade, 1984 or 1985; I don't remember, but I do remember that the teacher was Mrs. East -- actually Dr. East, I believe; I think she did have a Ph.D., but she didn't go by "Dr."), my science fair proposal was a computer-based study program called Computer Tutor, which I actually did do a lot of work on, but which I never actually finished, just as a I didn't finish chemistry. (Dropping out of one made it easy for me to abandon the other.)

When I was in ninth grade at Berkmar, taking Coach Thees's Algebra class, there was a tenth grader in my class who I would talk to sometimes about music (he was into synthesizers and liked Gary Newman) and computers (he also had an Apple II); his name was Jeff Martin. At one point he gave me a floppy disk containing a pirated version of SirTech's landmark fantasy roleplaying game Wizardry. It was a strangely defining moment for me -- I already loved fantasy fiction, and I soon loved this game. I didn't have a manual or any instructions, but by trial and error I learned how to play, and eventually got my cousin Scott and my brother Jeff into it with me, in long Friday night adventuring campaigns with our party of Srizaxa, Sribob, Imok (so named when we saw the spine of I'm OK, You're OK on Dad's bookshelf), and at least three others whose names now escape me. (A full party in Wizardry was six characters, and we always played with a full party.).

The last thing I'm going to say -- for now, at least -- about this phase of my life is that we subscribed to Creative Computing, a magazine I dearly loved and read faithfully every month. I also looked through the ads in the back many times, fantasizing about the computers I would get and what cool things I would do with them.

Today, computers are all around us, powering or enabling an awful lot of what we do, and we tend to take them for granted. I wrote much of this musing on my Google Pixel 3a smart phone using an Anker bluetooth keyboard, and, except while composing this sentence, it doesn't even occur to me what a cool thing it is that I have these tools at my disposal. I am glad, though, that I have memories of a time when personal computers were unique and not yet ubiquitous, and back then I think I really did realize how cool they were.

July 30, 2021

Two Views of Our Screened-In Back Porch

(A few weeks ago I wrote a post based around just a picture of the house I grew up in in Lilburn. Here's another one, except this is based on a different view of the house, and this time there are two pictures.)

I don't remember exactly when Dad and my uncle Richard (Scott's dad) built this screened-in porch on our house in Lilburn, but I remember the building of it well, even if I'm not sure when it was. But I think it must have been 1981 or 1982 -- I'm almost certain I was at least in middle school at the time, if not already in high school -- which means that for the first eight or nine years we lived there, there was no back porch. In my memory, that house always had a screened-in porch, even though I know that wasn't true. (Memory is often unreliable like that. I think I might have learned that in college; I don't remember.)(Do you see what I did there?)

We spent a lot of time out there, or at least I think we did. (If we didn't, then we should have.) In these pictures you can just make out the white and blue plastic and canvas table and chairs we had on the porch, at which we had summer lunches and the occasional game of Trivial Pursuit. I think there was also some wicker furniture too. And ceiling fans? I think so, but you can't tell in these pictures, and my memory doesn't fill them in. What I wish was true is that I spent a lot of time out there reading, and I know I did some, but I think even after this porch was built I still spent most of my time in my bedroom reading Piers Anthony and Clifford D. Simak novels and playing my guitar.

I do remember this, though: my fourteen-year-old self was in much better shape than I am now, forty years later (not surprisingly), and back then I could do something that I wouldn't even attempt now, which is to climb up on the gate of our chain-link fence, just beside the house (you can just barely see it in one of the pictures above), and pull myself up onto the roof. Some days I would take a book with me and a little plastic jug-shaped container of juice and sit up there on the porch roof -- which was pitched at a more comfortable angle than the rest of the roof-- and read for a while. Whether this is something I just did a couple of times or something I did every day for a whole summer I'm not sure. I outgrew the habit (probably pretty quickly because I imagine it was hot up there, even if it does seem like a cool thing to do).

July 15, 2021

Nine-Year-Old Cub Scout Me

I was a Cub Scout for a whole year—or at least much of a school year, if not actually a whole calendar year. I quit way before I ever had a shot at going from the minor leagues of the Cub Scouts to the big leagues of the Boy Scouts, and I don't regret not participating longer. Every once in a while I have a student who includes in their "About Me" post at the beginning of the semester the fact that they were—or are—an Eagle Scout, and that's great for them, but it doesn't bother me that I never was. I can't tie a Shawshank knot or pitch a tent in fifteen seconds or tell at a glance which mushrooms are edible and which are not, and I'm okay with that. I don't like mushrooms anyway. (Besides, ALL mushrooms are edible. Some of them will, however, kill you.) I do know that, had I stayed in the Cub Scouts, the next level up within the Cub Scouts—not in the Boy Scouts, but the Cub Scouts—was actually called Webelos, which is awfully close to Weebles—"Weebles wobble, but they don't fall down"—and maybe that's part of why I dropped out. I mean, seriously, if you want a nine-year-old kid to continue in your organization, don't threaten him with a dumb-ass title like "Webelo."

Here I am in my uniform, sometime in 1976. There's no date written on the photograph, but I know it was 1976 because the strongest association I have of the Cub Scouts—along with some vague recollections of Den meetings at our Den Leader's house (I'm not sure what should really be capitalized here, so I'm just going to use initial caps on anything that sounds officious or official)—is of marching with my Den in Lilburn's Bicentennial Parade. Although, to be honest, I don't actually "remember" that, I just know it is a fact of my past: I marched in Lilburn's Bicentennial Parade with my Cub Scout Troop. We have a picture or two from that day, but I don't truly have any memories of it.

The only true memory I have of my time in the Cub Scouts is participating in the pinewood derby, a wood-model-car race—or maybe it was the space derby, which is basically the same thing except instead of cars on the ground you race balsa-wood rocket/space ship things suspended on fishing line. I vaguely remember working on my car, or rocket, but what I really remember is going to a church in Lilburn—it's now Calvary Baptist Church, but I'm sure it wasn't called that then—for the actual race. (It's the big church on the right as you're going down Lawrenceville Highway toward Lilburn Square, where the Lilburn-Tucker Cinema used to be.) I don't have any idea how my car, or rocket, did in the race (though if I'd won I'm sure I would remember that), but I do remember that at that time I was reading The Mystery of the Laughing Shadow, which is I think the fourteenth Three Investigators book, and now whenever I drive by that church in Lilburn, which is several times a year, I think about that book, and about going to the church for the pinewood derby (or space derby, whichever). (And about misusing the word "vigil," a word I learned from that Three Investigators book, one day when I was trying to impress Jarrod Parker with my vocabulary in Mrs. Osteen's fourth grade class—but that's a whole 'nother story.)

Maybe the best thing that came out of my brief association with the Cub Scouts was my subscription to Boys’ Life magazine, which I'm pretty sure extended two or three years past my membership in the Cub Scouts. I enjoyed reading Boys’ Life—a magazine which still exists, and which is published by the Boy Scouts of America for its members; it has apparently been renamed Scout Life, a change I don't care for—more than I enjoyed being a Cub Scout. I read the joke page, Think & Grin, of every issue thoroughly, memorizing some of what I considered the best jokes. (I still know some of them today, more than forty years later.) I remember when they started serializing a comic version of Robert A. Heinlein's Between Planets, though I didn't read it. (These days it wouldn’t be described as a "comic version," it would be called a "graphic novel," but thankfully that term hadn't been invented back then.) Nor did my subscription last through the end of that serialization; somewhere in there my subscription to Boys’ Life was replaced with a subscription to Guitar Player magazine, which was more enjoyable, and more appropriate, to the fifteen-year-old me. Now I remember the two magazines with equal fondness. (When I actually read the Heinlein novel a few years later, I thought immediately of Boys’ Life magazine, but that association didn't last long.)

Before I close this musing, I need to say a few things about that living room. This picture is forty-five years old, and I haven't lived in that house for thirty years, and I'd forgotten that the fireplace hearth was just a big old block of concrete. I remember the dark brown wood of the fireplace and mantle, though, and the black metal of the firebox, and those candles and the ceramic turtle up on the mantle. In the middle of the mantle is a black case, which I think was the case for the very camera my mother used to take this picture. On the right side of the frame there's a red chest of drawers, which I remember well, with a bowling trophy one top of it. Not long after this, my uncle Wayne would build some shelves into that space for us, and eventually there would be quite a few bowling trophies on those shelves.

And here's something I remember very well about this scene: there's a knot-hole in the fireplace—in this picture you can see it as a little circle a bit past half-way up the frame, beneath the mantle and pretty close to the left edge of the picture—and when I was a kid I would push things into that hole so they would fall into the hollow space behind the wood. Mostly I put bits of paper back there, candy and gum wrappers and things like that; I had the idea that they might be discovered years later when the house was renovated or demolished. And for all I know, they will be—or perhaps already have been, if the current owners have altered the fireplace. I would love to be able to comb through the debris back there and see if I wrote any notes and dropped them through that little hole. I can easily imagine the ten-year-old me writing a note for posterity and depositing it in that hole.

This is one of the longest posts I've ever written, but I'm about to extend it even further: here's a picture of me and my Cub Scout Den—the picture of me and my Cub Scout Den; I don't know if there are any others—marching in the Lilburn Bicentennial Parade:

I'm the left-most Cub Scout in the picture, and our Den Leader—I don't remember her name, or anyone else's name—is right beside me. I'm not sure who the green-uniform-and-red-beret-wearing guy behind me is.

July 01, 2021

Eight-Year-Old Me and My New Cassette Recorder

I'm pretty sure this was my eighth birthday, back in 1975. I remember that cassette tape player/recorder so well; I used it for years to record songs from the radio, and me and Sharon doing skits and reading stories, and me playing my guitar (a few years later; when this picture was taken I didn't yet have a real guitar and couldn't have played it if I did). I still have some of those cassettes; in fact, I've digitized a few of them and now I can listen to MP3 files of my much-younger self saying things that I now don't remember ever having said. Some of them were recorded over tapes Dad gave me that, prior to my using them, contained software code. At least one of those tapes contains some "Star Wars" music I recorded off the radio.

I wish I could read the text on the cover of the cassette player's manual, but the quality of this picture won't allow it. I probably didn't read the manual back then, either, since the buttons were all clearly labeled and the microphone only plugged into one jack. It wasn't exactly rocket science to use the thing.

I remember that snazzy denim outfit I'm wearing. (Whether in calling it "snazzy" I'm being serious or sarcastic I'll leave up to you to decide. I'm not actually sure myself.) I can remember wearing it to school, probably to Mrs. Martin's third grade class and maybe also, if I didn't grow too much that summer, to Mrs. Sutton's fourth grade class the next year.

And, man, look at the kitchen! That chicken/fruit basket wallpaper was great, and the giant wooden fork and spoon on the wall on either side of that violin-thing draped with plastic grapes (you can't tell that's what it is in this picture, but that's what I recall it being) is also pretty wonderful. The sign on the wall near the corner that says "Complaints to the cook can be hazardous to your health" now seems vaguely threatening and ominous, but no one back then would have seen it that way. That simulated-brick tile floor really completed the faux-rustic feel of the place. I don't remember having a round table, though; what I picture when I think about the kitchen when I was growing up is a rectangular table up against the wall beside the counter, which probably wouldn't have even been visible in this picture. Clearly, however, I am standing at a round table. Maybe the other table came later.

What's really amazing is that only ten years later I was graduating from high school and starting college. I realize now what a short time ten years really is, but I doubt that the high-school-senior me of 1985 would have looked at this picture and said, "Seems like only yesterday." (However, it's true that I did change a lot more in the ten years from 1975 to 1985 than I did in the ten years from 2011 to now.)

June 24, 2021

Dad and Jeff and Me on the Sofa, 1974

I love looking at this kind of photograph, an "everyday life" picture with no clearly associated event or holiday, just us in our house being us. The house is, of course, our house in Lilburn, and "us" in this case is me, in the middle, Jeff, and Dad. This picture is from February of 1974, a couple of months before I turned seven and right around the time Jeff turned four. Dad was only twenty-nine when this picture was made--still practically a kid himself! (Though near the end of that year he did turn thirty.) When this picture was made I was a little more than half-way through first grade, Miss McDowall's class at Bethesda Elementary. Jeff hadn't started school at all yet.

Behind us is the pool table that we had for the first few years we lived in Lilburn. I vaguely remember playing pool, but my biggest memory involving the pool table is this: Mom and Jan were working on a 10,000 piece jigsaw puzzle, which they kept, for reasons I'm not clear about, on a rolling board under the pool table (or maybe they just put it there temporarily, I don't know), and one day Jeff and Alan got under there and messed it up so much that they (Mom and Jan) just gave up on it. I reminded Mom of this a few years ago, but she didn't remember it. I remember it well. In any case, I don't think we had the pool table past 1978.

On the left side of the frame at the top you can see a red bookcase which Anna and I have now; as I write this, it's in our bedroom on Anna's side with a lot of picture books and middle-grade and YA novels and library books on it. There are some books on the bookcase in this picture, but I can't tell what they are. It looks like there might be a set or a series there; where they cookbooks, perhaps? You can also see--or at least I can see; if you didn't already know what they were, you probably wouldn't recognize them--a set of crossed-swords bookends (or at least you can see one of them), which I think I might have had at some point. I don't know where they are now.

Near the top right corner--but not quite in the corner--is another object you might not recognize if you didn't already know what it is: a roundish red bun warmer, sitting on or beside the stove. I can't distinguish any of the other objects on the stove or the kitchen counters, up there at the top of the frame, though I'm sure there's a blender and a coffee maker there, and, who knows?, maybe a waffle maker. The folding wooden doors at the back of the kitchen are quite visible; behind them was the washing machine and dryer, and also the water heater. On the left side of the kitchen you can see the refrigerator, green, which I'm pretty sure was the same refrigerator we had a decade later when I was in high school.

I wish like anything I knew what book that is open between me and Dad. Jeff and I are both in our pajamas--was this nighttime, just before bed, or was it one morning? I suspect it was night. That yellow shirt Dad is wearing could have been a dress shirt he wore to work that day, or it could have been just what he was wearing on the day this was taken. What was going on that made Jeff look so wary of me and Dad? What was that pattern on Jeff's pajamas? What prompted Mom to take this picture?

Whatever it was, I'm glad she did. I cherish these reminders of how great it was to be a kid in the 1970's.

June 17, 2021

Our House in Lilburn

Most of the pictures I choose for these musings have me in them, and often other members of my family as well, but this is just a house. Well, since my family and I may have been at home when this was taken, we might be, in the broadest sense, "in" this picture, but you sure can't see us.

But you can see the house, obviously. This is the house I grew up in, our house on Johns Way in Lilburn. We moved there in 1972, when the house was brand new and I was five, and I lived there until 1991, about a year after I graduated from college. Mom and Dad lived there until 1995, and when they told me they were putting it on the market I was incredulous: Sell my childhood home and live somewhere else?! Now I'm glad they moved — the neighborhood was sort of falling apart, I realize now — but at the time I was dead set against it. They moved anyway, of course.

I can date this picture to 1984 or 1985 based on the cars in the carport. The dark blue car on the left was Dad's Cadillac; it was originally a company car when Dad worked for CompuShop, but he later bought it. The car beside that was our 1978 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, which became my car after...well, I'll get to that in a minute; at this point it was still Mom's car. The white car beside it was a 1984 Toyota Corolla, which I bought—or really, Dad bought for me—after I totaled my beloved 1977 Toyota Corolla in April of 1984. Sometime after this picture was taken, or I think it must have been after this picture was taken, I wrecked that white Corolla on my way to work one morning for Maid in Georgia. It wasn't totaled—that is, the insurance company said it could be fixed, and was not a "total loss," but by that point anyone's confidence in me as a safe driver should have been. Within a few months, I was driving the Monte Carlo. I'm not sure what became of the white Corolla, but Dad eventually got a Toyota Celica. I don't remember what Mom drove then, my first couple of years of college.

The house was then a dark green with light green trim; it's still there, still owned (I'm pretty sure) by the family that bought it in 1995, but it's not green anymore. I drive by it every once in a while—okay, not "every once in a while," but every chance I get, anytime I'm in or anywhere near Lilburn. It was a great house to grow up in, and the neighborhood was great too. It was the kind of neighborhood where the ten-year-old me could take off on his bike after school and be gone for a couple of hours, sometimes playing with the other kids in the neighborhood (Kenny Moss, Steve Brooks, and others whose names I don't now remember), sometimes just riding around the neighborhood (it was a big circle, so I didn't have to go anywhere near a main road) or on the trails behind the neighborhood, through the woods. (Those woods have long since been turned into other subdivisions, but when I was a kid, Gwinnett County wasn't nearly as developed as it is now.) I don't think kids do that anymore—go out riding their bikes or playing in the neighborhood for hours, I mean—but that's more about the fears of parents and society today than about the current desires of kids.

But by the time this picture was taken, I was seventeen or eighteen, and my bike riding and playing in the neighborhood days were long gone. But I lived here for another six or seven years after this picture was taken, and it was, as I've said already, a great house to live in. Someday I'll write more about it.

June 10, 2021

Me, Jeff, and Dad in Granny's Living Room

This picture is a study in green--the green of the built-in drawers on the left side of the frame, the green of the linoleum floor, the green of my dad's striped shirt and solid tie, the green of my brother's pants. There are also some pronounced reds--my shirt, Jeff's shirt (striped though it is), and the Consolidated Freightways toy truck in the bottom right corner of the frame.

And I doubt you would know that that is a Consolidated Freightways toy truck without me telling you, and I probably wouldn't know either, except we have some other pictures from the same time--probably the same day, actually--that show it better. My grandfather worked for Consolidated Freightways, which is why Jeff got specifically a Consolidated Freightways toy truck for his birthday, and not just any old toy truck.

Like so many of the important pictures from my childhood, this was taken at my grandparents' house in Tucker. This was 1973, after (or possibly the day of) Jeff's birthday. I think that Mattel Preschool toy train (the "Motor Putt-Putt Railroad," Google tells me it was called), the brown tracks of which (all you can see of the train set in the picture) Dad is bending over to look at, was another of Jeff's birthday presents that year. Jeff was into trucks and trains when he was a little kid. I definitely remember playing with that train. (I also remember the train in Pa's attic, which I've also written about, but I definitely remember this train, with the plastic brown oval track.)

What I'd forgotten, but which this picture reminds me of, is that house's laundry room door's flowery pattern--was that perhaps contact paper covering the door? I can't quite remember it well enough to say for sure. But man, just seeing that door reminds me of the smell of that laundry room--humidity and clean clothes and the warmth of a gas dryer. (If it wasn't actually a gas dryer in there, don't correct me; just let me go on thinking that.) That laundry room was a veritable treasure trove of stuff--mostly tools and old magazines and newspapers, actually--and I loved going through it in the late seventies. At least I think I did; I would sure love to be able to visit it--as it was then, of course--now.

And that television set, on that rolling cart! As far as I know, that was the same TV on which Granny and I would watch "Wheel of Fortune" together--the Chuck Woolery "Wheel of Fortune"; it was that long ago--and on which I'm pretty sure I saw "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" one Christmas in the early or mid seventies.

What you can't see in this picture is my mother standing or sitting behind me, taking the picture, and my grandmother sitting beside her, but I know they were there, and I'm glad my mom took so many pictures like this when we were growing up. They mean a lot to me now.

June 03, 2021

Jeff and Me in Front of Nanny Risby’s House

Jeff and me, 1974 or so, wearing matching outfits, in front of my great-grandmother's house in Tucker, in the same neighborhood as my grandmother's house (which shows up in several of my TBT musings).

We called my great-grandmother "Nanny Risby," which strikes me now as a funny thing to call someone, but at the time I accepted it as just what we called her, her title. I realized eventually that Risby was her name--Risby Taylor--but I'm not sure why she was specifically "Nanny" Risby. Nanny Risby was my grandmother's mother. My grandfather died in 1978, but Nanny Risby lived until 1979, when I was twelve. It occurs to me now that it was strange that my grandmother lost her husband but her mother was still living.

Nanny Risby is not in this picture, of course, just Jeff and me--and the house. I remember going to that house often when I was young. It was very small by today’s standards, and though I went there many times in the 1970's I'm not sure if I ever saw the bedrooms. I don’t remember the bathroom, either. Here's what I do remember: Nanny Risby always had Nutter Butters on hand, and there was a big cement water fountain out back that she would turn on for us kids. My cousin Sharon told me once (when we were well into our adulthoods) that Nanny Risby was "a mean old woman," and she probably was, but mostly I remember that her mind was going and she forgot things and had stubbornly set but (so I thought) wrong ideas--such as believing that her television could only pick up one station. (I'm pretty sure I could tune it to any of the three that were available then, though I don't remember ever watching TV at her house, except one time we were then when it was time for her "story.") Back then we would have said that she was getting "senile"; maybe she had what we now call Alzheimer's disease, I don’t know; in the seventies I don't think that was something many people had heard of.

The other thing I remember is that Nanny Risby had a boarder, Blanche, who I assumed was somehow related to us. It was only fairly recently that my mother told me that Blanche was just someone who rented a room from Nanny Risby, and wasn't related to us at all.

May 27, 2021

Jeff and Me in Our House in 1976

Jeff and me, back around 1976, in the house where we grew up in Lilburn, GA. I'm not sure why we were dressed up (and this is what counted as "dressed up" for us back then, by the way; not tuxedos, obviously, or even ties, but pants that weren't jeans and shoes that weren't sneakers). It might have been around Easter, but our Easter outfits tended to be brighter and more pastel-ish.

Whatever the occasion for the outfits and the picture, I love seeing this little slice of our house from way back then--the wall without the chair rail and paneling that my mom added years later, and which I tend to think of as having always been part of the house; that brown carpet that was there when we moved in, but which Mom replaced (in the living room, at least) with multi-colored, elaborately patterned carpeting that hid spilled chocolate milk and muddy footprints; that hanging candle sconce-like thingy on the wall behind us; the corner of the living room, just on the right side of the frame, which didn't yet have a desk in it.

It was my home for another fifteen years after this picture was taken and it changed quite a bit in that decade-and-a-half; this is not how I see the house in my mind when I think back on it (which I do often). But I'm happy to have these reminders that things weren't always as I remember them.

May 20, 2021

Christmas 1971

You know how sometimes kids have more fun playing with the box than with whatever came in the box? Santa too knows this, and for Christmas in 1971, the box WAS the present. And what a great present it was! Looking back at it now, I see it as a fort, and a castle, and a spaceship, and a haunted house, and whatever else a four-year-old-boy wanted it to be. I remember it with great fondness—though to be honest, I’m not sure I did much spaceshipping or haunted-housing in it; I remember crawling around it and through it a lot, though. Most of the other presents I got as a child I remember largely because I've seen them in pictures, but this cardboard playhouse (or whatever exactly it should be called) I remembered well before I happened upon this picture. I don't think I've ever received a better present. (A few equally good, perhaps, such as my first electric guitar a decade later, but none truly better.) I don't know what became of it, though; I have no idea whether that elaborate and wonderful cardboard structure held up for a week or a year. It was probably gone, or at least all played out, by the Christmas of 1972.

May 13, 2021

Scott and Me, 1982

This picture of my cousin Scott and me was taken in the den of my grandmother's house in Tucker in 1981 or 1982. Scott and I both went to Berkmar High School by then; I'm pretty sure this was taken when I was in ninth grade and he was in eleventh. We were still close at that point: I saw Scott every day at school, and we got together most weekends either at my house to play Wizardry on our Apple II or his house to "jam" (he played drums and I played guitar; I was na├»ve enough back then to think of what we did with our instruments in his garage as "jamming," but "making an unholy noise" is probably more accurate). This was some months, maybe even a whole year, before we formed our short-lived high school band, Voyager, with Roy Smith, whom we met in Coach Wilson's World History class. Roy played drums, I played guitar, and Scott played bass and keyboards and sang (but, because we didn't have a P.A. system, you couldn't actually hear him singing). Every song we played (except the few that we wrote) Scott or my guitar teacher Desi showed me how to play. I didn't realize this at the time, but I had—have—terrible ears and very little musical ability. If somebody showed me where to put my fingers I did okay, but my ability never really rose above that basic level of knowing where my fingers go. It still hasn't, and though I still noodle around on guitar every once in a while, I still can't really play anything that Scott or Desi didn't teach me.

Scott's shirt says "I Love Real People." He got it (if I remember correctly) at a taping of the TV show "Real People" when his family made an epic drive across the whole country, from Georgia to California, a few months earlier. My shirt says "Junkyard Dog" and features a drawing of a bulldog. I didn't get it at a taping of anything; it probably came from Treasure Island. Or maybe Richway. In any case, whether this shirt really had anything to do with the University of Georgia—a possible connection about which I was completely clueless at the time—I don't know, but people seeing me wearing it often assumed it did. They also incorrectly assumed I knew more (which is to say, anything) and cared more (which is to say, at all) about UGA and college football than I actually did.

Behind us on the wall of Granny's den were the family pictures that I think of as having always been there. The topmost picture on the left is my brother Jeff and me. That picture was taken just after my mother had to get my hair trimmed down to a crew cut after my cousin Catherine tried to give me a haircut in 1971, an incident I heard about all the time when I was growing up. As you can see, my hair eventually grew out.