Sunday, November 22, 2009


Last week's teaser originally said this week's item would be called Doune. I was going to do a piece about our visit a few years ago to Doune Castle in Scotland, the principal location for one of our family's favorite films, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but then I realized that a lot of people have already made photo pages about going there. I like to create web pages with something you can't get anywhere else. Maybe I'll still do it sometime if I can come up with a new angle on it.

I have also begun writing a new story series that is something like a prequel to the College Stories. I have written out drafts of the first two parts, and I have thought about how to explain the end, but I feel like I don't quite have it right yet. I may have hinted to you before that I spent a few weeks on Drop in order to set up the College Stories properly. I will go out on a limb and put the working title of the first part of the new story at the end here.

So it's not as if I've done nothing, but it is almost as if, because once again I came all the way to the weekend with nothing in the old blogger bank.


People take pictures of each other
just to prove that they really existed.
People take pictures of each other,
so the moment should last them for ever
of the time when they mattered to someone.

— Ray Davies, "People Take Pictures of Each Other", 1968.

I've been looking at an album of the oldest photographs I have of my childhood. The selection of moments preserved there is so different from the ones preserved in my memory. The photos are familiar and yet strange. And images I wish I had preserved are not there.

Family photographs are full of special events. We can see how we looked on vacation trips, on birthdays, on graduations. Of those events, only random moments were captured, not always the ones we remember. But of daily life, orders of magnitude fewer moments. I don't have a picture of my childhood bedroom. I don't have a picture of the bathroom. I don't have a picture of the corner where I got on the school bus every morning for eight years.

Some of my childhood friends are only memories, missing in all of the photographs. My parents never even met some of my school friends, and I never took a camera to school. People and things that were important to me once are just not there in the album.

So the album feels a little strange. It's like someone snapped images of my life but didn't understand which scenes I would want to see again later. Actually that's exactly what happened.

Of course I realize why. If you see something every day, you don't need a photograph of it. And then it's gone, or more often you're gone, gone from that place or that routine, maybe happy to be gone. Then some time later it occurs to you that something once so familiar has been taken from you, and it cannot come back.

Picture yourself when you're getting old.
You sit by the fireside a-pondering a
picture book: pictures of your mama,
taken by your papa, a long time ago,
picture book: of people with each other,
to prove they loved each other, a long time ago.

— Ray Davies, "Picture Book", 1968.

And what is there? The album is full of mysteries. Why do I have a photograph of this?

Some of the photos are bizarre. Here's my dad, smiling, in his thirties, holding a pigeon. I showed him this one last year and asked what was going on. He had no idea. No, he certainly did not keep pigeons, and he was sure none of the neighbors did. He could not think of any explanation at all. It's a great picture of him though. He's looking at my mom taking the photo.

Equally puzzling is this one. That's me, three years old. It's from a group of five photos taken on my birthday. This is what I have. It's ripped in half. Why? Whose arm is that? My mom wrote on the back of one photo, "Joe's b-day, age 3". Thanks for that much, mom. But oh, if only you'd left a note on the back of this one to say what offense this child or its family committed, that all but an arm needed to be crudely ripped from the pages of history.

This next one is me and my mom at the Pocono Game Farm, the same year. I like her hat. Like most kids I hated animals slobbering on me, so game farms were a trial, but it looks like I wanted to feel the wool of this black sheep.

Here's a silly memory. At some point in my childhood I got new pants that annoyed me because I could not get them on or off with my shoes on. The pants I have here? Not those pants. I guess very loose-fitting pants went out of fashion when I was little. I can no longer think of a good reason to put on my shoes before my pants. What strange little habits I had.

Now, this next one is the prize. I've just been getting you ready.

My mom wrote this on the back:
taken in Superama / Super Market / Paramus N J / Oct 1955. The photo print does not match any of the others I have, and it's been cut with scissors on the sides. A bit mysterious.

You'll notice that I've got a child-size shopping cart, and it has artfully arranged merchandise in it. I've enlarged this one (click on it) so you can get a look at the period products.

Silvercup Bread! See the silver cup logo on the end there? There's also a miniature loaf in the cart with the same wrapper. I showed this to Helen and she remembers small loaves being available but not why. The thing between them with "19" on it may also be a loaf of bread.

Under the big loaf is a box of Burry's cookies. "Heavens to Betsy, Burry's are good". The tartan and the apparent "LO" makes me think Lorna Doone, but that was a Nabisco brand, so I wonder what name Burry's used. See how the package was made? I'm pretty sure it's a cardboard box with a wax paper wrapper glued over it. Printing directly onto boxes came later.

Near my hand is the book Tom and Jerry in Tom's Happy Birthday. Tom and Jerry were the violent cat and mouse team from M G M that inspired the insanely violent Itchy and Scratchy on The Simpsons. I guess Tom was the cat. Amazon will hook you up with dealers who have a paperback of this book.

The strangest thing here, to me, is the box of Mallomars under the small Silvercup loaf. I do not remember ever eating Mallomars. I have had a lifelong dislike of marshmallow. Don't ask me why. It tastes funny, OK? Let it go. It's not a major food group. My dad was a Brooklyn kid. Did he like us to buy Mallomars when they were in season?

Or was the cart a prop, and the photograph a promotional thing for a new store? It's not a Polaroid though, and it seems expensively elaborate to mail parents photos of their kids. But maybe that's what they did.

I remember us always shopping at the A & P in town. My mom's dad had been an A & P store manager in Pleasantville NY. She probably had her brand loyalty set in childhood.

One more. Three years later. I'm home in the living room.

My reading matter there is the Sunday News comic section. Some comics got a full page! I'm going to take a real leap and guess that the one on the left-hand page is "Little Orphan Annie" with the smaller panels of the one-line "Maw Green" strip at the bottom.

The toys on the floor belong to my sister. The thing in the middle of the table by the window is a china planter in the form of a donkey pulling a wagon. Now there is something I would never remember without this picture. But it comes back to me now like I can almost feel its smooth surfaces and smell the wet dirt in the planter. Memory is a weird thing.

This is a great photo. Nothing special is happening, and we get to see some of the room in its normal condition. This was everyday life.

Hee hee hee. Those socks are crazy. I don't remember them at all.

Next time: Schoolmaster.

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