I assume that this was my father's class photo his senior year of high school. Best guess. As I look at it now, I see how much he looked like his younger sister. I wish I could go back into the family archives and see photos of his mother and father and siblings. I have only a couple photos of his mother just before she died. None of the eldest sister and his older brother, either. There is no one to ask about that family's history that I know, so all I have are my father's tales remembered from my childhood. This is what happens, isn't it? Most things in a person's life just disappear. When I am gone, who will ever think of my father again?
Yesterday was his birthday. He died forty-four years ago at the age of sixty. He would have been one-hundred and four.
This is my mother now, at ninety-two. This is my last view of her every day when I leave for home. She and my father divorced when I was sixteen after twenty years of marriage. She was thirty-seven. He was forty-nine. That was a long time ago. Yet there we are in all those old, silent 8mm films. Friends envy those bits of recorded personal history. I am, in many ways, a chip off the old block.
Dad, like his older brother, was curious about the world. The difference between the two, I think, is that my father was drafted into the navy in WWII. He was stationed to a warship and was in battles in the Pacific, but even warships put into ports of call, and those, I am certain, fired his imagination and fueled his desire to travel.
His brother was notorious for stopping to see things that piqued his interest on his way home from work. He would see someone working on an engine or building something and stop the car to talk to them. He would come home and recall in detail the person he had met that afternoon and what he gleaned. He often took new routes home, too. . . just to see.
My father was curious in that way, too, but he was curious beyond the boundaries of provincial Ohio, so when I was young, we travelled. After a couple of months long trips around the country, though, he settled down here in the Sunny South to making a living and provisioning the family. It was fairly unusual then in my neighborhood of stay at home moms, but my mother worked, too. They both had jobs in the "defense industry," my father as a tool and dye maker, my mother designing layout work for publications about missiles bought by the U.S. government during the Vietnam War. There were two week vacations annually. My father, like so many others, had to palliate his restlessness with boats and motorcycles and weekend trips. Making a living, by and large, consumed my parents' lives.
When they divorced, I was determined I would not live as they had.
In the end, though, I, too, worked all my life. For poor hillbillies, there is no escaping it except through crime. I lament not having been the bohemian son of a wealthy family. I would have been marvelous at it. Alas. . . I tried to make do.
I have attempted to make a record of "my time." Incessant writing, incessant photo making. To wit: yesterday afternoon, after a warm, grey morning, as the sun suddenly blew up a clear blue sky, both the humidity and the temperature dropped. I grabbed a camera bag and limped into the world. . . somewhere.
"They can't all be winners." That's what they say. Yesterday was evidence. Not a single photo I had taken was. I couldn't make a good photo on a bet. I wandered around a crowded farmer's market and even talked to a few people, but nothing came of it. Bland photos of anonymous people of little interest.
After all that talk of "the Kodak moment" photographs, maybe the past years of isolation have reduced me to that. I am able to make a photograph to illustrate a magazine story--but hardly anything more.
I don't mind making pretty pictures, really, if they mean something to me. I took this photo with my conservative friend in mind. His grandmother lived on the river that separated the mainland from the barrier islands and beaches. He often recalls her life in the cracker south with glorious bits of detail--the orange groves and fishing the river and the large wooden house with the deep verandas in the style of the time. After living here for forty years, he got married and moved away to raise a family, so he hasn't seen the most recent effects of suburban sprawl. I wanted to show him the view from the river now, looking across to the condominiums that line the beaches for endless miles both north and south. In large part, this photo was meant to be an illustration. And as I say, I don't mind.
I miss having an intimate relationship to document in photographs and words. Now it is all strangers and streets, cats and cocktails and mirrors. All warmth and humor of human emotion is lacking. Cold light on the side of a shaded building. Reflections of imagined life in a shop window. A lonesome photo at a red light. The transient world frozen for a moment.
And so, I need to go "BBC" into the world again to find out what is going on. When I was young, I boarded a greyhound to "look for America." It was an unforgettable adventure. Too bad my mother threw all the photo negatives away. One day it will all be forgotten.
In the end, it seems, I am more like my mother and father than I would have guessed. I assume that we all are more like our parents than we want to admit. The things they did to shape us early on, for good or ill, linger for a lifetime.
If you don't believe me, ask your therapist.
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Happy birthday, pop. And so it goes.