Know Thy Blogger
My mom, dead more than three years, talks to me. Not in dreams, not out loud, but sometimes in words, and sometimes in pictures.
Recently, rummaging around the garage, that once and future black hole of suburban culture, I came across a tin box I don't remember having seen before. The box had belonged to my mom, and inside it were some documents about my maternal grandmother, some letters to my mom from one of her cousins, and a cornucopia of photographs, many of them new to my eyes.
Several photographs were of me, including the one, above. I must have been about four.
Above, I'm seated next to my brother, Dan, in our first house in West Los Angeles, on Veteran Avenue. I note we sported the same style in haircuts. Apparently shins were in that year, and check out my socks. Today, while our sartorial preferences have mostly parted company, we both enjoy photography and cycling.
Our beloved Gus is at our feet. If I believed in heaven, I'd picture Gus in the kitchen, wagging his tail. He's waiting for my mom to make his dinner – almost always ground round – frying up that expensive meat in her heavy, cast iron frypan. After dinner, my dad and Gus will enjoy a walk around the celestial block, where, if it should rain, they'll both remain dry.
I had too much fun while a student at Chico State. So many women, not enough beer. No, now that I think of it, there were never enough women, and it took the aftermath of one, hot afternoon and a few cups of beer too many to keep me mostly sober for the rest of my college career.
Who were those young women? I don't remember. That's my dorm in the background, as we socialized in the adjacent almond orchard. I'm not sure why or how this photograph ended up in the odd collection of images in my mom's tin box, except that she must have thought it defined who I was at the time, and wanted to keep that memory alive.
The print above is square-shapped, which means my mom was probably the photographer; she would have used her Rolleiflex camera, which made square-shaped pictures. Today, I have and sometimes use that wonderful camera, which is now over a half-century old. I'm sitting in the backyard of our second home, which was on a ridge top in the Santa Monica Mountains. How blessed I was to live there. My mom lived in that home for 49 years.
I don't recall my mom looking at the contents of the boxes or albums of prints she collected. If the idea was to keep alive the memory of family and friends and places, what good was it to keep those memories hidden?
Perhaps, though, it wasn't necessary for my mom to look at those photographs. After all, there were thousands of them that piled up as prints and slides over the years. Maybe the point was that my mom had the photographs, and knowing that, for her, was enough to keep the memories, on some level, intact.
Here's one more photograph, above, which started life, in 1972, as a slide, and was made into a poster. I pulled it out of the garage a little while ago.
Yes, that's me yet again, posing under a sign at the Doris, California, train depot, about 1972. At the time, I was on a two-day bike tour with my friends, Jim Devilliers and Steve Miller, which took us from the northwest slopes of the massive and dead volcano, Mt. Shasta, through the Tule Lake wildlife refuge, and into Oregon. I remember that Steve, red-headed and fair-skinned, suffered a serious sunburn on his legs after cycling for several hours under the mercilessly bright sun, and that we spent a night in an Oregon campground surrounded neither by trees nor tents, but by a forest of RVs.
It's somewhat amazing that my old poster has survived 38 years. Maybe it did so because it was mostly hidden away, like my mom's photographs, in a closet, a storage facility, and of late in the garage; it's back in the closet, now. I don't know how long it will stay there. Maybe knowing I have it is the important fact of its existence.
I still have that hat, too, a heavy leather one that didn't want to stay on my head while I biked that weekend long ago with my friends; like old photographs, that hat is usually hidden away in my closet (and used as a prop on occasion on the photography trips I conduct).
More amazing: I still have that bike, and I think I'm going to take it for a ride a little later this afternoon. And when I come home, I'll look into that old tin box again, and see if my mom has anything else to say to me.