I come from a family of picture-takers. When I was a kid, whenever we visited our relatives, finding and paging through their phono albums was a common activity.
When I was staying with my Mom back in September, after my father passed, I had the chance to go through some old, familiar albums that I hadn’t seen in years. For some of the albums, I just took cell phone shots of the pictures, just because there were so many I wanted and no time to set up for a long scanning session. These albums covered specific periods, from places we lived to ones dedicated to weddings.
Then I got to borrow a couple albums from my sister, which covered our family’s earliest days. One covered the time from my parents' wedding in 1960, through 1964, by which time my brother and I had been born. The other covered 1965-1968, capturing my sister’s birth and the fallout of two boys having a little girl in the house. Those, I had the time to remove from their photo album pockets and scan properly.
Between those earliest albums to the ones Mom had, it was interesting just seeing the development of photographic technology. Some of those earliest shots of my parents’ honeymoon were on old black and white paper, with the edges all wiggly, rather than straight-edged.
Mom and Dad on their honeymoon, looking all cute, like the Champion Poconos Rowing Team.
Others had holes punched across the top like it was torn off a stack of other pictures.
A lot of the color had faded from the 60s shots, and the 70s pix had that bright “70s” look. And I especially appreciated the ones with the white border and the dates stamped on them. That removed the inaccuracy of a fading memory from the equation, (allowing, of course, for the time gap between the activity photographed and when the film was actually taken in for development.) Plus, it was the perfect place for a caption.
And of course, it was fun watching my siblings and me growing up page by page. But I was usually more interested in the background objects…
“Remember that swing-set? Look at that old TV! Oh God, the cuckoo clock!”
And then there were the anachronisms that stood out so starkly from how we live today, starting with the ever-present cigarettes in people's hands. I can still remember my Grandpa’s retirement parties, (there were several because he kept going back to work, probably just to have more parties), that took place in their basement. There was singing, playing instruments, and general high times, conducted by grownups in dress shirts and ties, or party dresses.
That’s my grandpa on guitar.
The rest of the band. Grandpa and the harmonica guy used to like to secretly turn down the other one’s amp.
I wanted desperately to go down there and enjoy the revelry, but the smoke was so thick, it burned my little eyes. Oh, the misery that was me! Now that I think of it, it was probably a conscious decision to create an effective kid repellent, so the adults could get their party on in peace.
Another thing I noticed is how parents used to really dress their kids up for a day with the extended family. Hats were a big thing and I don't mean ball caps… I was 4 years old and walked around wearing a sport coat and fedora like I was a miniature Frank Sinatra.
I look like I just got done coaching the 1965 Chicago Blackhawks.
The other thing that stood out was the apparent lack of basic safety protocols that would result in calls to Child Protection Services if done today. For example, consider this happy picture of my brother (R) and me (L):
What was the thought process behind this carefully arranged shot? I figure it must have been something like, “Hey, let’s put the boys up on the edge of this 4-foot stone wall, right on the ends of the railings. No way they’ll fall off and break their necks. And let the little one keep holding that stick, which surely won’t get jammed through his eye when he falls. And the big one? He’s got a hat on, which is almost as good as a helmet. Besides, that bush will break his fall. Can’t coddle these kids now, can we? OK, everybody smile!”
The freakin’ 60s…
Same deal with this picture of me and my cousins a few years earlier, up on the same 4-foot wall.
Maybe they were counting on us cushioning each other’s falls. Or maybe my dad, (far right) thought he could dive in and catch us, like Roberto Clemente going after a short pop fly. I think maybe he wanted to bump me off so he could have my little truck all to himself. And speaking of Dad...
More Dad Stories
When we held the remembrance event for Dad, my Uncle Joe, who lives in California, sent a few words for his son to read on his behalf, which included this brief story:
I’m a lifelong car guy. Jim was not. Jim’s first car was a 1960 Plymouth Valiant. 4-door sedan. The coolest thing about it was that it was a stick, but instead of 3-on-the-tree, it was a floor shift, which I thought was supremely cool.
Now my first car was a 1961 Volkswagen Beetle. The coolest thing about my car, besides that it was a convertible, was that it was not only stick, it was a 4-speed! When I bragged about that to Jim, he was not only unimpressed he said, “Why would anyone want to shift an extra gear?? It makes no sense!”