When I was a kid, my parents had an enormous photo album--so big, in fact, that it had been taken apart and expanded and put back together. It had pictures leading back to each of their births (and even slightly before), and of each of their childhoods (I think they alternated pages, or something, but I'm not sure now), and finally pictures of their life together, including pictures of my early childhood. (They weren't especially prolific picture takers--a trait I inherited from them--but what they had they put in this big album.) I used to love to flip through this album. I can't begin to count how many times I must have done this. It was like a story book to me, albeit one without words. Because the pictures were more or less chronological, I had this sense of a narrative through photos, but it was a narrative that featured me and the people who loved me. I've read that most little kids don't really have a sense of their parents ever having been children themselves, because they've only ever seen them as, well, parents, but I had a very real sense of them as children, because I had looked at those photos so many times.
There was something else, too: all of their childhood photos were in black and white. Somehow this was more expressive to me. (Some of the pictures of me were in black and white as well, but they were a tiny minority.) These old black and white photos, that reminded me of I Love Lucy and Dennis the Menace and other old sitcoms I used to watch, made those old pictures stand out as something different. It was a whole different world, to me, and yet comfortingly the same: there was a picture of my father as a baby in a dresser drawer, and there was an identical picture of me. There was one of him under a blanket, and an almost identical one of me. And then there was the fact that in the young faces of my family members, I could see the faces they would grow into, the faces I knew. These pictures were also set in a world I would never know because they were from Cuba, but again, the things that were the same across two countries made me feel like I could know what life was like in that alien black and white world.
I still love to look at old pictures. I can lose track of time, and look at one single picture for ten to fifteen minutes. The older the picture, the more it fascinates me. That old photo album would be such a treasure to me if it still existed. Sadly, it does not; during my parents' ugly divorce, my mother, in her illness, destroyed it. The pictures of my father and his mother she defaced, tearing faces out of them, or tearing them apart. The pictures of me she threw away, as if I never existed. And so it goes. I have almost no pictures of me before the age of twenty or so.
I do have some, though. A handful that came to be in my possession for one reason or another. A tiny baby album of me that was not included in the huge album. A couple pictures of my father given to him by his sister after his divorce, which he did not want and gave to me. The occasional random snapshot that used to be tacked to a wall or whatever. And so for this landmark, I decided to look through the surviving pictures, pick out the most meaningful ones to me, and see if I could turn them into the same kind of narrative that I used to enjoy so much when I was a kid.
I only have two or three pictures of my father from his youth. This is one of them. He is standing on my grandfather's lap, it looks like, while my grandmother holds my aunt. It looks like a birthday celebration or something; I have no earthly idea what the deal is with all those sandwiches in front of my grandfather. Maybe they're why he has such an unhappy expression on his face. I never met my grandfather, but I have seen (a handful of) other pictures of him, and he doesn't always look angry! Usually he looks like a very debonair 1940s kinda guy. I look at my father and it seems to me that I can already see what an intelligent person he is; he is looking at the camera with this knowing, wise beyond his years expression. I also like this picture of my abuela because in it, I can see the woman I remember--believe it or not--who looks closer to this formidable young lady than to the stroke victim on her deathbed, or the sewn up body in her casket, that are my last two actual memories of her.
This is my mother getting ready to go to the hospital, two days before I was actually born. She doesn't look like she knows that she has twenty-six hours of (ultimately unsuccessful) labor ahead of her. (I bet that explains a lot . . . )
This is me on tax day, eleven days after I was born. I get a kick out of pictures of me as a baby, because I had such long, dark hair, which I never lost--I was never a bald baby.
This is my very first Christmas gift, on my very first nochebuena. That bear was my friend throughout childhood, and even a bit into adolescence, and I still have him somewhere. :-)
Here is my favorite childhood picture. My father looks so happy. I still love chocolate-covered graham crackers (africanas), but I never buy them, because I have no self-control when they're around. At one point, I wanted to duplicate this shot with my kids, as I remembered my parents duplicating with me some of the shots from my father's babyhood, but I never did. This is a candid shot, not a pose, and I decided that you just can't create a moment like this. This is unique, and that's okay. :-)
As I looked through these old photos, one of the things I found was that I was drawn to the imperfections in the photos. The white that wasn't, quite. The edges of the pictures, which eventually stopped being printed that way. The scratches and the smudges. There's a sense of history in those imperfections, and I would not trade those old photos for perfect digital prints. (Neither would I trade my digital camera in for an old 110 mm one, though, so the nostalgia only goes so far!)
I've had two birthday parties in my life. One on my fifth birthday, and another when I turned twelve. (The party when I turned twelve was the result of me complaining that we never celebrated my birthday. It was at Mark Twain's Riverboat Playhouse, which was sort of like a Chuck E. Cheese's. We were all just barely/almost too old for that type of party. All of the other parties my friends had that year had dancing and stuff. But it was cool, just the same. I'd never seen so many presents, and we all had fun running around and being little kids one last time.) But this party, when I turned five, was special. It was in a rented out gazebo in my abuela's apartment complex. The cake had like a pirate theme, with "land" and "water" made out of icing, and my father made the piñata himself, in the form of a huge (cardboard) boat, replete with little plastic sailors in sailor uniforms on deck. The event was only marred when I tried to ride on those "big kid" swings behind me. They were higher than my butt, and could only be reached by grabbing on the chains and pulling myself up. I had accomplished this trick a couple of times before, but this time, on my birthday, I did it wrong and ended up falling off the back of the swing and banging my head painfully on the ground. No bleeding or cracked skull, though, so the party eventually resumed.
(I had long hair much of my childhood, but this seems to be just about the only picture I have with it. I was so convinced as a kid that I was an ugly kid, and I look at this photo, and I see a pretty cute one. I'm going to have to blame latino culture for this one. A freckle-faced kid was such an anomaly in the circle I grew up in--even among Cubans, who are not of indigenous stock--that I grew up convinced that freckles were something to be wished away. That is so utterly alien to me now. I don't think freckles on kids are okay; I think they are freaking adorable. It's so weird to me that I was ever ashamed of being freckle-faced.)
This is the only picture I have of the townhouse where we lived from the time I was four until the time I was fifteen. I'm on the left, and the other boy is a neighbor of mine that I hardly remember. This picture is special to me, not because of him, but because it was of a time when it was still possible to have people over to the house. It wasn't long before my parents' life began to fall apart, and it soon became inconceivable to have anybody over. In this picture everything is so normal, though. I think that's what I like about all of these pictures; you can't tell that anything is wrong. I can look at these pictures as if I was seeing somebody else, and I can imagine that there is nothing wrong with this kid's life. Some of you know some of the things that were going wrong in this kid's life, but you look at this picture, and you see a kid just like any other, with friends, and parents in the picture who even take the time to take and keep photographs. It's every life.
I'm spending as much time staring at these photos as I am writing. :-) It's like being able to go back to that house, and see things I never thought to see again. I'm in the kitchen here. That's the fridge behind me--the previous owners covered it in faux-wood contact paper, for God knows what reason. My father painstakingly painted that kitchen--twice. This is between the first draft and the final product. He intended the overlaps between the yellows to be darker, as if . . . well, I'm not sure how to explain it, so I hope you get what I'm trying to describe. Well, much to his chagrin, mustard yellow is mustard yellow (goes nice with those olive tins by the fridge, no?!) no matter how many times you coat something in it. Eventually, he went back and painted the "overlap" areas with golden-yellow colored paint. It came out looking rather nice, but it did take him years to get around to it. I look at the kitchen floor, and I can still feel it under my knees as I play with my Matchbox cars--never Hot Wheels!--crashing them into each other to see which was the strongest, or something.
This is just about the only picture that still exists of my adolescence. (Not counting my school yearbooks, which I do have.) This is me at around thirteen, with my girlfriend at the time, and her little sister whom I (of course) hated. I believe this is at King's Dominion amusement park, but I can't be certain.
Jump ahead five years or so, and this is a polaroid--can you see it? --of my first pet. I named her Brief Candle, so that when I was annoyed and wanted her to leave, I could say "Out! Out Brief Candle!" Nerd humor!! Of course, I actually called her Candy. I had to find a home for her when I moved in with Cor, because Cor is allergic to cats. That probably makes me a lousy pet owner; I frequently hear people say they would never date someone allergic to their pets. *shrug* I had already gotten used to living without her, though, since I could not take her with me when I took off my junior year of college to work at ORNL, in Tennessee, and again when I went to graduate school. My parents had been keeping her until I could take her in with me somewhere, but right around the time of my marriage, their own marriage finally went Chernobyl, and I needed to find a home for her quickly, before she became a casualty of their war. I still miss her a great deal, though. I am such a cat person, and now I live with dogs.
This is me in Tennessee. I love this picture. I am not a photography nerd (obviously) so I feel dorky saying things like this, but I love the composition in this photo, and the shadows in the fading sunlight. I also love this view of my old apartment; my favorite feature of the apartment was this window. It was huge, stretching from knee-height to ceiling, and from wall to wall, and it overlooked downtown Oak Ridge (such as it was ). This was my first experience living away from home, and it was wonderful!
This is another shot from that year. I believe off to the right you can see the famous graphite reactor, though I may have my bearings wrong. This is definitely the street in front of ORNL, though. Apparently, that year I really dug wearing jeans, a collared shirt under a sweater, and a leather jacket. :-) Notice my badge? I'm still bitter about being just about the only employee without a dosimeter. What the hell?! Anyway, that was my old car. I loved that old car. It was my father's, and when I started driving it, he just gave it to me, and started driving a crappy old Ford Escort that he bought from my grandmother for himself. O_O We had just started to connect when I was in college. We had not gotten on well when I was a kid, but we built a whole new (and not entirely parental) relationship as adults, as something closer to equals. It may not be the relationship everyone else has with their father, but it's a good one, nevertheless. Anyhow, years later, this act of generosity still floors me. (You have to keep in mind that much of my childhood we were really poor. My parents were working their way up to middle class though, working tons of overtime and stuff. He bought this '79 bimmer in '87, and it was our big indulgence. Just the idea that we had this bimmer . . . ridiculous! I don't think my mother cared one way or the other, but my father and I both loved this car, and put in hundreds of hours repairing, maintaining, and improving it.
Someday I need to own a car like that again.
This picture is from when I went to grad school in Clemson. This was taken at Carowinds--can you tell I love amusement parks? This is the skinniest I ever got; I weighed around 175 in this picture, and was trying deperately to lose more weight, because I hated my fat legs and my love handles. (I miss this T-Shirt, too.)
Living in Clemson was wonderful. I would have totally stayed there, if I hadn't found myself, after grad school, unemployed and broke. I loved living so close to the mountains, and I loved to go hiking just about every weekend. This was taken at the Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel, for anyone familiar with the area. That was one of my favorite places to take people--in addition to great hiking, there was a mile (or so) long uncompleted tunnel intended for the Confederate Railroad. It's a really cool hike in total darkness. Some people used flashlights, but I preferred glowsticks. For a while, Clemson used the tunnel to make their famous blue (bleu?) cheese in.
But eventually, as I said, I had no income, and that darned landlord kept expecting me to pay him every month. (Not Duke Power; they had already shut me off.) So I went back to Miami, because I figured I could more quickly find a job in that economy, and with the contacts that I had. I went down one night, substitute taught for about a week, and rented a truck locally, and drove it back up to SC with my cousin (who had come over from Cuba just a year or so earlier) and his girlfriend. We then filled up the truck and skipped out on my lease. (Don't worry, the landlord eventually caught up with me.) This photo was taken at a rest stop on I-26, on the drive back. (I must have really liked those white shorts; I think this is at least the third shot here of me wearing them.) I love to play tour guide, so it was cool to drive all over the area between Miami and South Carolina in a huge rented truck (with the odometer disconnected, of course) showing off parts of the South to this new resident. We drove through Disney World (we couldn't afford to actually go in, or even spend a night, but I drove them right up to tomorrowland from the outside of the park, so my cousin, whom I had taken there at my expense right when he arrived, could tell his girlfriend all about it), and then we parked the truck in Atlanta and took the subway all over town, and finally we screwed around in the Carolina foothills. Wild, huh? :-)
This may be the only picture that exists of me shirtless, so, um, there. This was when I worked at a summer camp in North Carolina. I loved that job. If it had been possible to make a serious living at it, I totally would have. I don't think I will ever be as good at anything as I was at that. :-)
This was right around the time Cor and I started dating. So we went to--where else?--Disney World, where this photo was taken.
I shouldn't show photos of our wedding; it's just too easy. Everyone's wedding pictures are great, but we had the best wedding ever, in our favorite place. :-) But our wedding and the reception was the single most intensely wonderful event in my life, so I could hardly leave it out! Starting our life together, with all of our friends there to share the moment with us--what could possibly have been better?
And to earn my geek cred, this picture is from our honeymoon, a Star Trek cruise! We met many actors from the various different series on this cruise. George Takei, in particular, was very cool to us.
This picture is of three fifths of the bowling team we were in from the time we were married until we got the girls. The guy on the right is David, who was my best friend since seventh grade. He used to post here as Nighthawk. David and I totally sucked at bowling--in all honesty, I sucked worse--but we were just in it to have fun. Most people were cool with that; occasionally we would run across someone who was not. Oh well--their problem. (I miss David too, but that's for another time and place.) Every year, Cor and I ask ourselves if the girls are old enough now for us to take up bowling again . . . .
This is the first car I ever bought new. It was a piece of crap--stay away from Chrysler products! I had to be screwed several times before I learned that lesson! But it sure looks sexy, no? I wouldn't mind having a convertible again, some day . . . especially here in Florida . . . maybe a convertible bimmer . . .
I had a polaroid somewhere of us with the girls on the day we officially adopted them, but I couldn't find it when I was scanning these in. This one is from the same time, though. I swear, it was impossible to keep their hands out of their mouths! (Mango, on the left, is not trying to induce vomiting, I assure you.)
The day we went to take the girls home, we left work and rode in silence, each alone with our thoughts. It had all happened faster than we had been told it would, at the end, and we were scared--or at least I was. We knew they had not been forthcoming to us about the nature of the girls' disabilities, so we weren't sure just what we were getting ourselves into. That night, my father went into the hospital with congestive heart failure, so I abandoned my wife at home that night with two brand new babies, who needed twice-daily nebulizer treatments, and who were themselves scared and confused. That was a nice couple of days . . .
My father came to stay with us, after his quadruple bypass, and I took family leave from work to take care of the three of them. I wish I could have taken longer off, but I'd be lying if I said we didn't suffer from a bit of cabin fever. So even though we were down to one income, we took a few days to go to Vero Beach. I just adore this picture, taken there, of Cor, Mango, and my father. I wish Banana were in the picture too (she's with me, and I'm taking the picture), but I don't know if it could be any better a picture than it is.
Here is when I realized I was a bad father: we had a largish toybox, and pretty often the girls would lean in to get a toy out, and end up falling in themselves. Cor would go for the kid; I went for the camera! I'm sure Banana's future therapist will find this picture illuminating, so I'll be sure and keep it handy.
This photo was taken not long before we left Miami for good. This was when my grandmother was still living with my aunt and uncle. When she was still living. I really miss her. I think I'm just starting to face that now.
Nearly two years ago, we all (i.e., my father, my daughters, Cor, and I) took a cruise together--my father's first one. This was the summer I bought a digital camera, so here ends this little adventure in scanning, with this shot of disembarkation in Grand Cayman, and this shot from our dinner table, both of which we bought from the onboard photographer. This was about the best vacation I have ever had; everybody likes a freak with long hair and a beard, so I was absurdly popular onboard. Summer camp for adults; that's what cruising is!
One of the things that struck me as I put these pictures together was something I had reflected on intellectually many times before, but which struck me particularly forcefully as I carried out this exercise. I've always had real body image problems. In particular, I've always believed I was obese. Some times in my life, I have been, but many times that I believed this, it simply wasn't so. But even when I knew I had lost weight, I seized upon any little bit of evidence that this was how people saw me, and disregarded evidence to the contrary. So I could be verging on anorexia, but read somewhere that a man my height should weigh between 150 and 170 pounds, and believe I had a long way to go. Or someone might express doubt when I commented on being the same weight I was at my wedding, and I lent that more credence to that than I did all the people who commented on the weight I had lost. I'm starting to believe this is a factor in the yoyo-ing I have done: no matter how much I accomplished, I could never see myself as successful, and so eventually the time would come when I would tire of fruitless struggle, and the weight would come back on. If I could ever believe I was there, maybe I could just be, instead of always feeling bad about what I still thought was wrong with me. Looking at these pictures has been revelatory for me, because some of them were so long ago that I no longer look at them as me. I have more objectivity. I can look at them from the outside and say "Hey, I wasn't fat then!" and realize just how skewed my perspective was, when even looking at these pictures I would only see an embarrasingly fat guy. It would be nice to think that maybe having seen these pictures I could develop a more realistic body image, but I'm leery of false confidence, after being disappointed before. Let's just leave it at a nice hope.
Anyway, I don't know if looking at pictures of someone else and "hearing" that person ramble about them is interesting or not. I guess it's interesting when it's a friend, so I guess this landmark is for those of you who consider yourselves my friends. I have made a lot of good friends here over the years, and I'm truly grateful to Hatrack for that. If you read my words and looked at my pictures, then thank you, friend, for indulging me in my reflective mood. I hope this was a much less unpleasant landmark than my others may have been. :-)
I really enjoyed reading that and looking at the pictures. You're one of the people I most admire and whose posts I enjoy/look forward to on Hatrack and elsewhere. Thank you for sharing that.
Posts: 1658 | Registered: Sep 2003
| IP: Logged |
Brief Candle -- LOL! I would probably have fallen in love w/ you as a nerdy teenager based on the name of your cat alone!
And as for the black&white thing--at some point I noticed the transition from black and white to color photos had somehow framed my entire view of the world. My brother, my only sibling, is 11 years older than me. And in our family photo albums, my parents' life and that of my brother's before my birth is all in black and white, as are my baby and toddler photos. But at about the time that my actual memories begin, when I was around 4 years old, all the photos are in color. So my experience is in color, and "pre-history" is all black and white.
Sorry to ramble so in YOUR landmark!
Posts: 3148 | Registered: Jul 2005
| IP: Logged |
Icarus - I think this is a fantastic landmark and you have no rambling to apologize for. Like CT said, it's enthralling, mostly, because I think it is a celebration of your life and what has made you who you are.
I particularly loved the photo from the wedding reception - so sweet.
Posts: 945 | Registered: Jan 2002
| IP: Logged |
Just reread it, and looked again at many of the photos. It's funny how much seeing those pictures adds to a sense of knowing you, Joe.
And like Tom said, you look amazingly like both of your parents. It's odd, because looking at either one of them I'd think "oh, yeah, he looks exactly like her/him", and think that there was no way you could also resemble the other parent. And yet you do.
Posts: 16059 | Registered: Aug 2000
| IP: Logged |
Probably later in the month will be better, but I can get a Tuesday off. I just spent several days last week teaching a class at work and have to take off some this week for medical stuff.
I still think Joe looks more like his father, but I've seen the two of them together. When you see them together, there can be no doubt that they are father/son.
How do you feel when people tell you that you look like your father? Does it make you feel good, proud, indiffernt?
I ask because at my reunion, several people told me that I look like my father, especially now that I have a beard like him. It's a small town and he was a teacher, so most know him. I never really thought much about it, althoug I don't see the resemblance as much as some people. One of my very best friends, who I can't remember a time in my life not knowing, told me that I don't look like my Dad, I look like Zan and always would to her. I don't know quite why, but that really hit me.
Posts: 4624 | Registered: Jul 2002
| IP: Logged |
I have always tended to think that I look more like my mother. The resemblances I see to my father are superficial: we're both overweight, and we both have beards. So I tend to see it as more a reflection of that--but I guess that's more about my own hangups than about anything else.
Posts: 13672 | Registered: Mar 2002
| IP: Logged |
Oh, no, Joe you most definitely have your father's eyes. Or at least his expression.
Awesome landmark, Joe. I really enjoyed it
edit: and i, for one, hate when people tell me i look like my dad. Because i look absolutely nothing like my mother, who is 46 and absolutey beautiful and thin, but instead like my father, pale, pudgy-faced, and overweight. Althought i've looked like my father my entire existence, this is the only time of my life where it's really, *really* bothered me to be reminded of it.
Posts: 3516 | Registered: Sep 2002
| IP: Logged |
"we're both overweight, and we both have beards."
Some of my favorite musicians share these qualities, Icarus.
And I must say, it is scary to see pics of you as a baby and child, and the pictures(the photos themselves) just seem so...old, you know? And you are younger than I am!
Posts: 10890 | Registered: May 2003
| IP: Logged |
If you happen to want a hard copy of this thread, let me know, because I just accidentally hit "print" and printed the whole thing here at work.
Posts: 10886 | Registered: Feb 2000
| IP: Logged |
quote:Originally posted by Uprooted: And as for the black&white thing--at some point I noticed the transition from black and white to color photos had somehow framed my entire view of the world. My brother, my only sibling, is 11 years older than me. And in our family photo albums, my parents' life and that of my brother's before my birth is all in black and white, as are my baby and toddler photos. But at about the time that my actual memories begin, when I was around 4 years old, all the photos are in color. So my experience is in color, and "pre-history" is all black and white.
On some level, I have difficulty imagining those days as having been lived in color!
quote:Originally posted by Elizabeth: And I must say, it is scary to see pics of you as a baby and child, and the pictures(the photos themselves) just seem so...old, you know? And you are younger than I am!
Those were awesome pictures, Ic! Thanks so very much for taking the time to put together the pictures and the words -- it was a great read! Your family is beautiful -- and I wish I lived on your side of the coast so I could know you all in person!
I loved your story ... had to put off reading it until after the kids were in bed when I'd have time. I found myself remembering my own 5th birthday, and my own childhood home (mustard yellow fridge), and my own trips to the Carolina mountains, and my own feelings of fear and excitement upon becoming a parent. You look like my cousin, so I feel like I know you. He's not one bit Cuban; go figure.
You do know that the world was in black & white back then, don't you? That color wasn't invented until recently? According to Calvin's dad, of course. (Of Calvin and Hobbes, that is.)
quote: I guess it's interesting when it's a friend, so I guess this landmark is for those of you who consider yourselves my friends.
Well, it was interesting to me, and if I didn't know you well enough to be a friend before, I feel like I would consider you one now!
Posts: 1522 | Registered: Nov 2005
| IP: Logged |
Those were some really great pics, and a great story they tell.
I am glad I have had the chace to get to know you guys IRL since we moved down here.
Jenni and I have Tuesdays off, just let us know when. I can also get all of us free express passes for any day we go, but I have to know in advance at least a few days. The person I know who can do that for us doesn't work every day.
Posts: 15058 | Registered: Jul 2001
| IP: Logged |
Cor and I are still negotiating for this one. I'm pushing for Tuesday because Tuesdays are myhardest workdays. She's pulling for other stuff . . . just to be difficult, I guess. But, tentatively speaking, how about 3/14?
Posts: 13672 | Registered: Mar 2002
| IP: Logged |
(I'd post to you, Icky, but I haven't gotten to the whole post yet-- either I'm being constantly interrupted, or I'm too tired to concentrate. I will read it when I can, though, I'm getting myself worked up into a frenzy of anticipation...)
Posts: 21180 | Registered: Sep 2004
| IP: Logged |