August 11, 2022

Me and Darren, 1972

It was great being a kid fifty years ago, especially if you had a best friend like Darren to eat Cheerios and get strong with.

This picture shows me and Darren on the driveway of the house I lived in then in Clarkston. (I'm the one on the left, wearing shoes and socks.) If there's a story about that overturned kid-sized wheelbarrow beside us, I don't know what it is; I have no memory of that wheelbarrow. Or of the green plastic ridey-toy visible on the left side of the picture.

I don't remember those things, but this is one of the things I do remember from back then:

Probably around the time this picture was taken, about 1971 or 1972, Cheerios (the breakfast cereal) was running a TV commercial intended to convince kids like me and Darren that eating Cheerios would give you energy and make you strong. It worked. The commercial worked, I mean; I doubt the cereal actually gave you energy and made you strong, at least not nearly as dramatically as the commercial showed it doing to the run-down stick figure character, but Darren and I sure believed it did.

One Saturday afternoon we confirmed this belief by first trying to lift the sofa (whether in my house or Darren's, I don't remember). We couldn't do it – look at us in the picture; we were scrawny little kids! But then we ate a couple of handfuls of Cheerios (whether from my kitchen or Darren's, I don't remember), and then, Shazam!, we could lift the sofa! Cheerios made us strong, just like in the commercial!

The sofa probably wasn't really that heavy to start with, and it took both of us to lift it anyway, but we were convinced that the Cheerios had given us strength we hadn't had before. We didn't talk about whether we had been giving it our all on the pre-Cheerios lift attempt. (I suspect we hadn't, but admitting that–even discussing it–would have been heresy.)

Why two five-year-old kids decided that being able to lift a living room sofa meant they were strong, I can't tell you. Also, why two five-year-old kids who also watched Popeye cartoons were eating Cheerios instead of spinach…well, that one is kind of obvious, isn't it?

I have no idea where Darren is today; after my family moved to Maryland, not too long after this picture was taken, Darren and I stopped being friends. We didn't have a falling out or anything – five-year-old kids don't – we just lived several hundred miles apart, which made it hard to get together and play, you know? And way back then we didn't have e-mail or texting or social media, so when somebody moved away, they were just gone. I wonder if that happens to kids these days: do they lose touch with people when they move, or if you know someone, does technology make that forever? In any case, I would like to know what became of Darren, and I'd love to be able to ask him if he remembers the Cheerios event–and if he remembers it the same way I do.

June 16, 2022

Me and Jeff in the Lilburn Den, 1973 or 74

Shown here are me and Jeff, in our Lilburn house's den as I have no memory of it ever being.

This had to be 1973 or 1974, sometime in the first year in which we lived in this house. It was in this room, the den, that every year we put up our tree and had Christmas – though in this picture the room is clearly not decorated for the season; I suspect this picture was made shortly after our first Christmas in this house – maybe even before we'd ever had a Christmas here! In any case, though I do remember lots of Christmases in this room, I don't remember the room being furnished and arranged quite like this.

Some of what you see here I do remember: Behind me and Jeff, largely in shadow, is the house's official entrance – not quite big enough to earn the title "foyer," though maybe that's what it was – where the front door was, though we hardly ever used that door; we mostly came in through the garage (which led into the kitchen). There's an orange light fixture hanging down, and a cabinet against the wall, with a candle holder and a photo album on top of it. We kept our photo albums in this cabinet (except for the album that was on top of it), and I remember looking through those photo albums often through the years. Let me pause here to express my eternal gratitude to Mom for arranging all of our pictures in photo albums – not to mention for making sure those pictures were taken in the first place (almost certainly including this one).

Okay, so that entrance, with the cabinet and light fixture and even those wall sconces, I do remember. But most of the other stuff you can see in this picture I don't remember.

Behind us, nearly in the corner, sits a rocking chair; it looks like a good rocking chair, but I really don't remember having it. Behind that, actually in the corner, stands either a small bookcase or a rolling cart; whatever it was, it appears to have books stacked on it. On the left side of the picture you can see the back of a very dated old metal office chair; Dad obviously had his desk there then, though I mostly remember his desk being along a different wall (and the desk at which I often sat playing Frogger and Space Invaders on the Apple II we had in the late 70s and early 80s was a different desk anyway). To the right of that, near the rocking chair, with a squarish vase of fake flowers atop it, squats a short metal cabinet of sliding drawers that Dad still has in his office at home today (though in a different house, of course).

I don't know if anyone else is remotely interested in these musings or not. I doubt that me describing old photographs of places I remember from my youth, and trying to explain what I see in the photographs, appeals to too many other folks. But it means a lot to me to look back at these old pictures, in this case from almost fifty years ago, especially when the picture shows something I don't remember.

It also gives me a good excuse to point out, as I think I've noted before, that Jeff and I used to be cute little kids! What happened?!

June 02, 2022

Me in Pearl's Apartment, 1992

Man, I used to be young!

These two pictures, showing me without a trace of gray in my hair or beard, were taken in my friend Pearl's apartment, almost certainly by Pearl, thirty years ago in 1992. (It may well have been 1993, but "twenty-nine years ago" doesn't have a satisfying evenness to it. So let's stick with 1992.) I was all of twenty-five years old – practically still a kid! (Unless I was twenty-six, but again that isn't as satisfying a number – but a twenty-six-year-old is also practically a kid.)

I'm still wearing those large-framed glasses that I got back when I had really long and thick hair. The frames didn't seem so large when I first got them, amongst all that hair, but as my college graduation approached, I got my hair cut in a (misguided) attempt at looking respectable (just a couple of years before these pictures were taken, actually), and with the shorter hair the frames looked too big. To me now, anyway – I guess I didn't mind then, though, because I kept those glasses for a really long time, I think over ten years. One of the perks of being young – as I used to be, once upon a time; did I mention that? – is that your eyes don't change much from year to year, and you can keep the same glasses for a decade. Now I wear "progressive" lenses (which doesn't mean they're in favor of LGBTQ rights or gun control, though being my glasses they'd damn well better be; it means they're like bifocals – you know, old folks' glasses – but without the line) but less than a year after getting my current pair, I can barely read with them on. (Thankfully I can see just fine to drive, though.)

When these pictures were taken I'd been working at ExecuTrain for a couple of years. The shirt I'm wearing, a charcoal-gray button-down dress shirt, was one of my work shirts; I tried to shake things up by never wearing plain old white dress shirts. In fact, I had a decent collection of plaid, checked, and denim dress shirts; I fancied myself something of a sartorial iconoclast, a rebel – but really I wasn't. Especially since at work I had to wear a tie and dress pants, which I did loyally for several years (my idea of "dress pants" then was mostly khakis, either tan, olive, or navy, but they were close enough to dress pants and I wasn't alone in wearing them). This picture was probably taken on a Saturday night, so I didn't need my tie or khakis.

I'd like to add that, in addition to a decent collection of plaid, checked, and denim dress shirts, I had a good collection of cartoon and novelty ties – Sesame Street ties, Peanuts ties, Dr. Seuss ties – and a decent amount of Christmas ties. I still have many of them today, and sometimes I actually miss wearing a tie every day. Until I put one on, that is; then I don't miss it so much.

Speaking of clothing, I entered the corporate world at the end of an era; when I started at ExecuTrain in 1990, most of my male coworkers wore suits – or at least dress shirts and khakis, like me – and women were required to wear, by the old fashioned and even-then-out-of-date dress code, dresses or skirts – definitely not pants or pant suits. A decade later, I could have worn just what I'm wearing in this picture to work. In fact, there were times in the early 2000s when I could have worn what I'm wearing in these pictures to work and been overdressed, since some of my coworkers would occasionally wear shorts and T-shirts.

May 26, 2022

Me as a Member of the 5th Dimension, 1972

I feel a little bit sorry for people who weren't around in the late 1960s/early 1970s: they probably don't have any pictures of themselves in outfits like this. They probably never even got dressed quite this way at all.

But, hey, this is what we wore in 1971!

Jealous, aren't you?

Even at the age of four, which I believe I was in this picture, wasn't I remarkably hip? With my tousled hair and closed eyes, I look like I'd just been awakened from a deep sleep and put into these clothes, probably so I could go on as a last minute substitute for an ailing member of the 5th Dimension.

It was, after all, the dawning of the Age of Aquarius!

What? You don't think that an upcoming gig with the 5th Dimension is at least a semi-plausible rationale for my being dressed like this? Well, then, I don't know why I was wearing this outfit. There must be some reasonable explanation for it – but what it is, I don't know.

Maybe just the fact that it was 1971 is explanation enough.

May 19, 2022

Chris and Jeff at Aunt Lois's House, 1972

Doing a little math in my head, I arrive at this incredible fact: since Aunt Lois – in whose house this photograph was taken, about fifty years ago – was born in 1918, when this picture was made she was only 53 or 54 years old – a year or two younger than I am right now. I'm older than Aunt Lois!

But of course, I'm not. Aunt Lois – who was in fact my great aunt; she was Dad's aunt, but because he called her Aunt Lois, I called her Aunt Lois – lived to be 85, and when she left us in 2003, more than eighteen years ago, I was only 36; I may be as old now as Aunt Lois was in my earliest memories of her, but I am not really "older than Aunt Lois."

In 1998, they – I'm not completely sure who "they" are in this case; her children and grandchildren, probably – had a birthday celebration for Aunt Lois at her house when she turned 80. It was the last time I ever saw her, and the last time I ever went to that wonderful house in Scottdale when she still lived there. I swear, she looked the same in 1998 as she did in 1972, when she would keep me sometimes while Mom was at work or running errands or doing whatever she did. (Aunt Lois probably did look the same, probably basically was the same, in that she hadn't changed her hairstyle in all those years, and frankly I wouldn't be surprised if that day in 1998 she was wearing a dress that she had back in 1972.) I told Aunt Lois that she looked like she hadn't aged in twenty-five years, and she said to me, "Oh, you're so sweet! If I had a quarter, I'd give it to you."

(There is, actually, one way in which I can I say she did look different: her glasses were noticeably thicker, not surprisingly, and the lenses made her eyes look unnaturally large when I first saw her straight on.)

I don't think the fact that Aunt Lois looked the same to me in 1998 as she did in 1972 says something about her youthful appearance at 80; instead, it says something about how, in the second half of the twentieth century, 50 was old, and someone who was 50 looked old. Aunt Lois at 80 didn't look like a 54-year-old; at 54, she looked like an old lady. By the standards of the time, I suppose she was.

But Aunt Lois isn't even in this picture I've chosen for this musing. I recognize the room as being in her house because of the white paneled walls with the chair rail, and...and just because I know that was Aunt Lois's house. (Uncle Arthur's, too, but it always felt to me more like hers – probably because when I was a kid and spent a day there, Uncle Arthur was at work.) I can't see it well enough to say for sure, but I think that plate on the wall at the top of the frame is an Ingleside Presbyterian Church plate; it seems like exactly the kind of thing this house would have adorning its walls. This is a house I treasure; it was one of the many wonderful places where I spent time when I was a kid – planting acorns in the yard (none of which, as best I can tell, actually grew into trees, but I sure remember planting them), looking at the Sears catalog inside (the Christmas Wish Book, which may have been a year or two out of date when I looked at it at her house, but it showed great toys), making milkshakes in the kitchen with that old manual milkshake-maker she had (it wasn't a blender – you put in some milk, some ice cream, closed it up, and then you shook it until you had a milkshake).

After she and Uncle Arthur were both gone, the family sold the house to someone who fixed it up, turning the attic (I'm told) into a small second floor. I've driven by the house a few times and it looks nice, but I would love to see the inside. I'm sure it's changed, but maybe it would also look mostly the same, just as Aunt Lois did the last time I saw her, very nearly twenty years ago now.

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.)