I realize I’m going overboard with my personal family archives but I’ve been on a scanning frenzy here in Chicago and I could stare at these Kodachrome images all day long. This color image of my parents from the early 1950s was a new find. I don’t know where the photo was taken but I’m dazzled by the unbridled youth staring back at me and I wish I could jump into the frame and get to know this young couple. The heavy plastic covering on the upholstered furniture looks familiar but this is not a house I remember from childhood. My mother’s hairdo is slightly uncharacteristic and her simple black dress wasn’t really her style. My father’s shiny black suit and silver tie indicates that they were on their way to some fancy event, but what was it? Why is it that my parents in their early twenties seem more adult than I do in my late forties? Except they weren’t really, certainly not emotionally. More like kids playing dress-up.
Although I’ve never seen that image before today, I admit that such photos are subject to interpretation by the viewer. Another brand new discovery was this photograph taken of my parents and sister at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. I gasped when I found it because it is the only photographic evidence of a trip that has haunted me for over forty years. My family drove out to Flushing Meadows in New York for the World’s Fair, with a chocolate-scented stopover in Hershey, PA. For some reason, at the age of 5, I was left at home with my grandparents. I have barraged my family members with questions about this decision for decades (with no satisfactory response) and I’ve written about it twice on this blog, causing my sister to leave the following comment: “Danny, the New York Word's Fair was 43 years ago. Do you think maybe it might be time to…I don't know...maybe…GET OVER IT?!” The secret truth is that I’m not sure I was the least bit traumatized by this experience back in 1964, my outrage came much later. But I’ve talked about it so much since then and laid such a guilt trip on my parents and siblings that I feel like I’ve reached back through time and given that little boy the makings of a persecution complex that otherwise didn’t exist.
I’ve only recently started to ponder the possibility that some of my memories of deep childhood angst have been radically colored by my adult perspectives. Readers of this blog who knew me as a kid have often told me how surprised they were to hear about some of the stuff I was going through back then since they thought I seemed like such a happy child. Certainly I had a lot of issues that were not evident on the surface—doesn’t everyone?—but is it also possible that my understanding of myself as a young boy is one that is continually evolving and maybe I’ve been creating a mythology of the younger me that is no more “true” than the perspectives shared by the people who claim life wasn’t as dark as I’m painting it?
Our most amazing find yesterday as we went through a cache of old family junk was a bag of reel-to-reel tapes recorded in the mid-1960s. As luck would have it, my sister recently found our old Bell & Howell tape recorder that miraculously still worked even though it hadn’t been plugged in since Linda Bird and Lucy Baines Johnson roamed the White House. I carefully threaded one reel of brittle magnetic tape and pressed play. My sister and I nearly jumped out of our skin when we heard the 12-year-old voice of my brother narrating a 1966 car trip to a family wedding in Toronto. There we all were, my 32 and 34-year-old parents, my 8-year-old sister and 6-year-old me. I had never heard this tape or even known of its existence, and I’d certainly never heard myself at that young age. My parents seemed playful and fun, my father doing riffs on old Calypso songs with my mother gamely following along. My brother Bruce has always been the broadcaster in the family, and even at 12 he described the proceedings with the skill of a young Edward R. Murrow. I am not heard very often on this tape—apparently I was far more interested in the coloring book that I had brought along for the trip. At one point, as only a big brother can, Bruce playfully taunts me about my activity. “I thought only babies color, Danny,” he says. “Are you a baby?” Listening to that now, I expected my six-year-old self to crumble under the weight of such a shame-producing comment. Similar mockery today can instantly induce a mood swing and I waited to hear the young me burst into tears or ask my parents to intervene. Maybe I’d even throw my coloring book out the window of the car, humiliated to be further associated with such an immature object. Instead, I heard a defiant high-pitched voice respond to my brother. “NO, Bruce, coloring is NOT for babies!” I shouted, completely unfazed by his teasing. “You’re crazy if you think that. EVERYONE IN THE WORLD COLORS!” Wow. Who is that self-assured kid and where did he go?
If anything, this ancient audio revealed a boy who was used to getting his way, who did not take kindly to negative feedback, and who had no problem telling people what he thought of them. How is it that this kid bares so little resemblance to my memory of myself at the age of six? Today we’re going to try to screen some old 8mm movies we found and I’m almost scared to look at them. Will I have to rewrite all of my blog posts?