August 03, 2023

Our House in Lilburn in Snow, circa 1980

As I write this, we are in the midst of a heat wave, with temperatures all around the country approaching, in many places exceeding, one-hundred degrees. This picture is a reminder that it hasn't always been hot; sometimes, in fact, despite what Elyse believes, it even snows here in Georgia.

This is our house and front yard in Lilburn covered in snow. I'm not sure exactly when this picture was made, but it looks like probably the late 1970s or the early 1980s; I'm going to call it 1980. The car you can see most clearly in the carport is our 1978 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, and I'm pretty sure the car beside it is our 1977 Toyota Corolla; we had both of those cars, but not yet Dad's company car, the Cadillac, by 1980.

There's a pair of tracks in the picture, very near the bottom of the frame, in what would have been our neighbors' yard. They're very regular tracks, like a car's tire tracks, though I of course have no idea if they were made by a car or not. Our neighbors were the Winterses: Beverly, the divorced (I think) mother of two boys, Jeff and Kevin, who were enough older than me that we never went to the same school, but not so much older that they were already out of school when I started school. I found what I think is the mother's obituary online; if it is her, she also had an older son, Alan, of whom I have no memory; he may have already left the nest (as it were) by the time I became aware of the family next door. In any case, she, Beverly, lived until a little over two years ago. I have no idea when she moved away from Lilburn.

There's also visible in this picture a figure walking by the car. At least, that's what I think it is; it's hard to tell. It might even be me!

July 27, 2023

Mom and Dad and Tommy and Kathy in Tommy and Kathy's Kitchen Having Dinner, 1987

I wasn't there that night, but I know this kitchen well. I had many a Christmas Eve dinner there in the 1970s and early 1980s, all many years before this picture was taken in the late '80s.

According to the timestamp on the picture, which I have cropped off in the version posted here (as I have cropped off the dog, at which Mom was looking when the shutter was snapped), this photograph was made a couple of days after Dad's birthday that year – 1987, when he turned forty-three. What we see here, then, is, I'm pretty sure, a Birthday Dinner; probably that year Dad's birthday fell on a weeknight or some night when Mom and Dad or Tommy and Kathy had other plans, so they celebrated my dad's birthday shortly after his actual birthday.

I'm not sure who took the picture, but there is in the picture some evidence of that person's presence: five chairs at the table, though only four people sit at it; five glasses of tea on the table; five plates; etc. Someone clearly rose, camera in hand, and recorded the night for posterity, as they recorded a few other scenes from that night, but I don't know who that camera-wielding person was.

Other things I don't know: Where I was, or Jeff, or my cousin Rick, that night. However, I do know this: By then we were all teenagers and surely not interested in having dinner with our parents, and too old to be made to do so.

This photograph was made twenty years before Tommy's passing in his late 50s. The house is no longer in the family, but it's still standing, and I drive by it periodically and marvel at how much it's changed. (That's true, actually, of a great many places.) I would love to see the inside of it, to see how much it's changed; I believe that the company that bought the property uses the house as an office, and I doubt it's changed dramatically, the living room and bedrooms making good offices as they were. I have great memories of going there and seeing Tommy and Kathy and playing with Ric. It is one of the important places of my youth, and I treasure the memory of it.

July 14, 2023

Me and Spike, 1973; Me and Pookie, 1978

I'm not really what you'd call a dog person.

Not that you have to buy into the artificial binary of "dog people" and "cat people." I've known plenty of people who love both, perhaps even have one (or more!) of each as a companion. And some people don't like either; it's weird, they say, to let an animal have free reign in your home and even sleep in your bed. Sometimes I see it that way myself.

But most of the time, I'm a cat person.

Not in the Val Lewton sense, of course, but if I am going to give an animal free reign in my home and let it sleep in the bed with me, I would much prefer it be a cat than a dog. In fact, Anna and the kids and I do have three cats, all of whom do have free reign in our home and sometimes do sleep in the bed with us (until they get kicked out of the bedroom for pouncing on people who are trying to sleep), and zero dogs. Before we had kids, Anna and I had six cats (yes, all at the same time). We've never had any dogs, and don't intend to get any anytime soon.

However, I must say that a dog was a great pet to have for a little boy.

The first picture is me and my first dog, Spike, probably in about 1973 before I'd even started first grade. I didn't have Spike for long – as I remember it, the backyard of our house in Lilburn wasn't fenced in, and he just had that small corner to live in (you can't see it in this picture, but Dad built a little lumber and chicken-wire pen for him), and he got wild and unmanageable as he got older, and eventually Dad took him to the pound.

Pookie, the dog you see in the second picture, came to live with us shortly after that. We had the yard fenced in, and Pookie was my constant companion for the next…well, many years, until I lost interest in dogs and got more interested in guitars and science fiction and the other things that can sometimes pull a boy away from his dog. Nonetheless, as I remember it, Pookie was with us until after I graduated from college, more than sixteen years. I've never had another dog, but I have had lots of cats.

So, though I may now be a committed cat person, I started life as a dog person, which is just how I think it was supposed to be. Pookie was a great dog and, even if I don't want a dog in my life now, I'm glad I got to grow up with him.

June 08, 2023

Two views of me in a suit

These pictures weren't made that far apart, really. There's probably nineteen or twenty years between the two – and that's nothing these days. Nineteen or twenty years ago seems like yesterday to me now, but the nineteen- or twenty-year span shown here is much more significant. Going in age from five to twenty-four is a pretty large and significant leap.

I don't know the occasion of the first picture, the one of me at four or five looking very dapper (but a tad nervous), and I don't recognize or remember that suit. I suspect the picture was taken on a Sunday and I wore the suit to church; maybe it was Easter – though that usually called for a more colorful outfit – or maybe it was the day I was baptized. Or maybe the occasion was a wedding I have now forgotten; I'm not sure I ever actually went to a wedding when I was that young, but if I did, I would have worn a suit.

I'm not sure about the occasion of the second picture, either, but I recognize the suit – it was my "interview suit," which I bought especially for job interviews after I graduated from college. I also wore it to…well, anything I went to where a suit was appropriate: holiday parties, weddings (did I go to any back then?), funerals, etc. However, in the full, uncropped version of this picture, you can see that the house is decorated for Christmas, so I suspect I was dressed up for the ExecuTrain holiday party, probably in 1990 or 1991.

Today I don't even own a suit. If I were invited to a wedding I would have to go out and buy something to wear.

June 01, 2023

Me and Dad on My Birthday, 1978

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 18, 2023

Three Views of a Christmas Morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 11, 2023

Sharon and Jeff, 1972

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

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

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

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

May 04, 2023

Me and Papa, 1967

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

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

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

April 21, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

April 13, 2023

Two Pictures of Me from 1995

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

March 16, 2023

My Brother Was a Monkey

My brother was a monkey.

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

and this tree in my grandmother's backyard:

Also shown in this picture are my cousins Carrie and Heather

and this door frame in my grandmother's house:


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

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

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

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

February 23, 2023

My First Grade Class Picture, 1973

You might be able to tell this without my pointing it out, but I "fixed" the letters on the sign in Photoshop. It says exactly what the real sign said, but I replaced the text, which was too blurry to read in the original picture.

This is my first-grade class picture from about a million years ago – actually, not too far from fifty years ago – at Bethesda Elementary.

I'm the rather dour looking one on the front row, far left (as you're looking at the picture, but far right from the perspective of those of us on the other side of the lens – though I realize as I type this that I may not have known right from left at the time.). I don't know why I looked so unhappy to be there; maybe I was, even though I remember first grade happily and not in a way that explains my expression.

Our teacher, the only adult in the photograph, was Mrs. McDowall. She was an old lady – old, at least, by 1973's standards of "old"; society's standards, and my standards, for what constitutes "old" have changed a lot since then. I'm only a few years (I believe about six) away from the age she was in this picture, and I don't think of myself as "old." Not really, anyway; sometimes, in fact, I forget that I'm not still a teenager. In any case, I don't think someone in their early 60s is considered "old" in our culture anymore.

Actually, not everything I've written above is completely true: I do think of myself as "old," at least sometimes, and sometimes I refer to myself that way. Even if I'm really not, I sure feel old sometimes. And looking at pictures like this doesn't help. (Sigh…)

So, anyway…what I most remember about Mrs. McDowall is that she rewarded us for correct answers on (I think) math problems with a couple of M&Ms from a can, like a Maxwell House coffee can but with the M&Ms logo on it – did such a thing actually exist? Maybe it was just a coffee can and I am misremembering. But I can see her going down the aisles between desks and doling out M&Ms as she looked over our math problems, and in my memory, she was doling out those M&Ms from a big black tin can bearing the M&Ms logo. Maybe I'll do a quick Google search to see if I can find evidence that such a thing actually did exist.

Here's something else I remember about first grade: at some point when I was in Mrs. McDowall's class, my family went to Stone Mountain Park, and I was allowed to get one item from one of the gift shops there. What I chose was a small toy pocketknife; I don't know if it was actually sharp – probably not – but I believe the blade was real metal and it looked kind of real, despite being only about an inch long and having a red plastic handle. I took it to school; I don't think I was showing it off, and I'm sure I wasn't threatening anyone with it, but Mrs. McDowall confiscated it, as I now realize she should have, telling me I could have it back at the end of the year. I don't know if this happened near the beginning of the school year and I held on to the promise of getting my knife back for many months, or if it was near the end of the school year and it was only for a few weeks or maybe even days. However long it was, when the last day of school finally came, I reminded her about the confiscated knife and asked for it back. She remembered, or at least pretended to remember, and searched through her desk and a supply cabinet, but couldn't, and didn't, find it. She never found it! I never got it back! I think she mumbled some vague apology and went about with her life. I guess I went about with my life, too; I don't care about the knife now, and probably didn't just a few hours later, but I still remember.

Looking back, I realize that Richard Nixon was president when I started her class! Watergate was still some months in the future (and I wasn't aware of it when it did happen). It was a different country then. In 1973, you could buy a toy pocketknife in a gift shop and take it to school and not make national news; you just had it confiscated, and lost, and you never got it back. Which now that I think about it, wasn't a bad way to deal with the issue.

Looking back at the picture, I can say for sure that at least two of the people shown here are no longer living; Cynthia Drummond, in the top row, died of cancer a couple of years ago, and Angela King, also in the top row of this photo, died of a heart attack about a year ago. I know about their deaths because of social media; as far as I know the rest of the people in the photograph are still alive.

It was a long, long time ago. I remember it well, but I also don't remember it at all. Sometimes it's difficult to believe that I was even alive in 1973. I'm glad I have photographic evidence like this to prove that I was.