My first family group photo c. 1957
"Who are all those funny-looking people and where did you get those weird clothes?"
"Those 'funny-looking people'" I replied, with a distinct touch of self-righteous indignation,
"are my mother, my father my paternal grandparents and me. Those 'weird clothes' were what we wore in the 1950's."
I couldn't blame her, actually. She was probably no more than a high schooler and this was the 1980's. The location was one of those early 1-hour labs where you could get really, really lousy quality prints that were worth far less than the 15 cents they cost. I was hanging this photo along with 19 others in the small gallery in the shop on the Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri.
The camera was my first "real' one: A German-made 120-film size, twin-lens Reflecta as it was called, and had a remarkably good lens for a $55.00 box. It was a Rolleiflex wannabe.
The likeness was struck by available light, mostly from the lamp just visible in the upper left of the frame. I was enthralled with the ability to shoot indoors without flash and took every opportunity to do so. I had no tripod so the camera rested on a chair and I used the self-timer. Three images were exposed, and this was the best, even though grandma Inman moved slightly. Good old Tri-X was the film of choice.
Note the dynamics of the posing: It is most typical to put the women in the center. I don't know for sure what that is all about, but it persists even today as I shoot fancy benefit events. Maybe it is a protection thing. Probably goes back hundreds of thousands of years, way before photography was invented. You know, like keep the females safe in the center of the pack to protect them from saber-tooth tigers. We were posing in my grandparents' living room. Don't you just love the wallpaper?
What is going on here is that my mom and grandma hated each other, so they had no intention of sitting next to each other. Grandma always thought that my mom was not good enough for my dad. And grandma took every opportunity to tell anyone and everyone. Mom responded with anger and resentment.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
Along about 1949, my dad went into partnership making boats in Michigan with an army buddy from World War II. We lived in a lake cabin right near the water and about 25 miles from Three Rivers. Clear waters back then, clean air, northern lights, it was pretty cool. Every week we would drive into town for groceries and supplies, have lunch at the Woolworth's (great chocolate sodas!) and catch a movie. There was this old cowboy serial and I got to see all but the last episode before we moved back to KC. I have wondered to this day how it came out.
Anyway, after the boat business sank, we headed back to KC, our entire belongings in and on top of a 1939 Plymoth. I had found and kept a turtle and we put him in a pail with a little water and strapped down the bucket to the roof. Amazingly, both turle and bucket made it all the way back.
Problem was, we arrived in Kansas City flat broke. Zero. Ziltch. Nada. My dad suggested we move in with grandpa and grandma, our only close relatives that had enough room. My mom absolutely refused. Mom and grandma under the same roof was not going to work.
The first winter living in the car was pretty mild. We had a regular parking space at night in Swope Park on Gregory not far from the Union Pacific tracks and the Little Blue River , so we had water for the occasional bath. Old stone park cookers were handy so when we were able to come by some meat, we had a place to cook it. We appreciated the outdoor toilets in the park.
My dad eventually found a job at a service station on Troost about 49th street. It was a tiny, tiny stone building which stands even today and is some sort of a storage outbuilding for UMKC. In the daytime my mom and I hung out in the car, which was parked a half-block from the station. That was a brutally hot summer, and more than once mom and I were overcome with heat. My dad was now bringing in some money, but we did not have enough for the first and last month's rent on an apartment nor enough for utility deposits.
But that fall, the living-in-the-car experience got a bit dicey. It was cold at night and weathermen predicted a particularly bitter winter. The night we all got frostbite on our toes and fingers was the final straw. We HAD to move in with grandma and grandpa.
As we all expected, it was a tense situation from day one, and things only went downhill from there.
The animosity erupted into violence one Saturday afternoon when mom and grandma got into a heated argument, I don't remember what it was about. But at the outcome, grandma picked up the iron she had been using to press clothes and when mom turned her back, grandma hit her full force in the back of her head. That was when irons were really made of iron, as in heavy.
Mom was out about 20 minutes. She never went to see a doctor, but had headaches the rest of her life, every day.
Moral of the story: There is lots more to a family group shot than meets the camera. And it isn't always pleasant.
Dad was an auto mechanic until he developed a brain tumor at age 54. Then he worked as he was able pumping gas at filling stations. He died of a massive heart attack at 70. Mom, like many women of the era, neither drove a car nor worked outside the home. She developed what we now call COPD after the surprise birth of my brother in 1957. She died at 54. Grandpa was custodian/engineer at Hale Cook Elementary in Kansas City, Missouri. In those days the school district provided a house for the CE right across the street from the school so that the boiler and plant could be maintained 24/7. He died of prostate cancer at 83. Grandma, God love her, was a long-time practioneer of yoga and all things spiritual. She talked a lot about the various planes of consciousness. She live to 93 and died of natural causes with a smile on her face, about as you see in the photo. I am still kicking :)