Don’t Forget Your Hat and White Gloves

mckees,souzas 1960

Times have certainly changed. Check out this photo from 1960. I found it while going through my parents’ old photo albums—black and white shots attached to black pages with sticky fasteners on the corners. It was taken at my Uncle Bob Avina’s wedding reception at St. Lucy’s Church in Campbell, California.

I was eight years old, awed by all the glamour of the gowns and tuxedos that day. Somewhere in that church hall, I sat primly with my parents, wearing a dress, hat, and buckled-on shoes with lacy white socks. My little brother, with his spiky crew cut, black slacks and white shirt, would have been looking for trouble with the younger male cousins. To me, the older people were just . . . old people. My grandmother was one of seven siblings, so there were a lot of aunts and uncles, plus their spouses and their offspring, who also seemed old to me.

Pictured here in the front row are, from left to right, Uncle Ollie and Aunt Nellie (Souza) McKee, Aunt Mamie and Uncle Ted Souza, and Aunt Edna Souza. That’s probably Uncle Tony next to her. In the back row, I can see my mother’s cousin Lorraine and her sister Addie.

I note Uncle Ted’s happy-to-pose expression and Aunt Mamie’s I-do-not-like-having-my-picture-taken face. But I’m especially impressed by the way they’re dressed. When we think of the ’60s, we think of love beads and mini-skirts, but in 1960, the grownups, at least the working class Portuguese American ones I grew up around, dressed up like this. Ladies always wore modest dresses, girdles and nylons, and high-heeled dress shoes. In this case, the shoes all have a little opening for the toes. Those were bloody uncomfortable, I can testify.

White gloves were a necessary accessory, along with the clutch purse. All the women wore hats. We weren’t allowed to walk into a Catholic church without one. Aunt Nellie, the youngest and most stylish of the Souza siblings, went big with her hat, and, if you look closely, on her lap, she’s got a mink stole, which if I remember correctly, had little heads and feet attached. Gross!

In most cases, the curly hair came from a home perm. Anybody remember the Toni home perm?  What a stinky mess. Between perms, I wore curlers to bed every night until I rebelled in my teens. Somehow curly hair was good; straight hair was bad.

I am sure some of the aunts needed glasses but wouldn’t be caught dead wearing them in public. Ah, vanity. Many years later, when I married my first husband at St. Martin’s in San Jose, I handed my glasses to Aunt Nellie at the last minute before the ceremony. I had a heck of a time getting them back from her afterward. She didn’t understand that it was more important to me to see than to look good.

You can’t see it in the photo, but I’m sure the air was rich with the women’s perfume and the men’s aftershave. One didn’t go out unscented in those days. Now everyone, including me, screams “allergies!”

Do you wear perfume or cologne?

Except for the little girl whose barrette you can see in the center of the back row, everyone in that photo has passed away. Aunt Edna on the right made it to 100 years old. Like me, she was a widow for a long time, and she never had children. I wish I had gotten to know all of them better, but back then, they were old people, and I was a child. If only I could assemble the crowd at that wedding and talk to them grownup-to-grownup. I did interview Aunt Nellie and Aunt Edna for my book about Portuguese women, Stories Grandma Never Told, but I know so much more about life now.

If the wedding were taking place today, we’d see women in slacks or maybe in dresses but with no girdles, no stockings, no gloves, no hats, no home perms, and no real fur stoles. The older men would drag out their suits, but the younger ones might not bother. In fact, there might be people of both genders wearing jeans. We’re more inclined to comfort these days, but back in the olden days when we dressed up, we DRESSED UP.

Please share your thoughts and memories in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

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I am the Weeping Keeper of Past Lives

It had been a beautiful Sunday, yet there I sat sobbing over old photos as the first “Sex and the City” movie played in the background. Certain parts of the movie always get to me–when Charlotte tells Carrie she’s pregnant, when Miranda and Steve reunite on the Brooklyn Bridge, when Carrie and Big get back together–but it wasn’t just that. It was all the lives piled up on the card table.

Somehow, having survived the deaths of my husband, his parents and his younger brother, I have become the keeper of the archives, boxes and boxes of photographs, slides, and memorabilia. The more I sell or give away, the more there seems to be. Like me, Fred’s dad never went anywhere without a camera. I carefully compiled the first 20 years or so of our marriage into albums, but I have my own boxes of prints and slides, including the black and white pictures I processed in my darkroom-happy years. There are pictures from life with my first husband. It was a life with so many promises never fulfilled. There are my grandparents, my parents, aunts, uncles and cousins, so many of them gone. I miss them all, and I weep. There’s the house we used to live in on Safari Drive. I weep.

There are the Lick photos, none of them properly stored, yet many surviving almost a century. It’s not the family I grew up with. I never met Fred’s grandparents. I never saw his mom and dad as young people or Fred and his brothers as little boys, yet here they are in countless photos. As Fred’s Alzheimer’s progressed and he forgot his history, I remembered it for him. Now that he’s gone, I look at that cute little boy with glasses and weep. I look his parents and weep. I look at pictures of Fred’s children, my stepchildren, as babies with their mom, and I weep. Some days I can’t believe I ever was part of this family, and yet it’s part of me. As I sort, I keep a few things for myself and I throw out the things that I don’t think will interest anyone anymore, but I keep sending boxes of pictures to Fred’s kids and his brother. It’s all paper, somebody’s click of the camera. Does anybody care? In the boxes from the storage locker, I also found love letters from Fred’s dad to his mom, the telegraph he received when he got his job at Boeing, and the one sent to Fred’s grandparents when he was born.These are precious, but who should have them? Surely not me.

There are other pictures that hurt because they emphasize the big chunk of Fred’s life when he was married to someone else. Wedding. Christmas. Babies. Crew-cut clean-shaven pix of Fred graduating from college, posing with his wife and his parents. He looks so different without his beard, yet I know that mouth, those eyes. I was 13 years old that year. I didn’t know Fred the way he looked then, and if I did, we could not have been lovers, but I still ache for him, for his smile, for his touch, his warmth.

Many of the pictures were taken on the countless cruises Fred’s parents took. Alaska, Panama, the Bahamas, Hawaii. While I don’t want to take a cruise, I miss traveling with my husband, and I wonder if I’ll ever get to those places on my unwritten bucket list. Do I want to go alone?

I find a framed 8 x 10 photo of a big black dog. I never met that dog, which belonged to my late brother-in-law, but I love dogs and plan to put this one on my wall because it makes me smile. There are 78 rpm records by artists I never heard of, and I have all the camera gear, valuable in its time, now nearly worthless because it isn’t digital. I don’t know what to do with these.

What will happen to all those pictures we’ve been taking in recent years, storing on our hard drives and tiny memory cards? Will they last long enough for descendants three or four generations down to spend an afternoon studying them, thinking about the people and places they depict and weeping while the E channel airs “Sex and the City” yet again? I worry that all of our memories will disappear, just like the stories I stored on floppy disks. Do we just put them on Facebook and then forget them?

I ended my cryfest with a glass of Portuguese red wine a friend brought to Nye Beach Writers Saturday night. That’s my heritage, and I could fill a room with those photos, too. I’ll probably cry. Cheers.

What about you? Do you have boxes of ancient photos? What do you do with them when the older generation is gone? Please share your stories.

A Picture-Perfect Day


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When I whine about the weather here on the Oregon coast, when I whine about being lonely or feeling hopeless or never having any fun, remind me about yesterday.
It was an honest-to-goodness day off when I did not feel obligated to work on my to-do list of writing, music and household chores. I slept late, luxuriating in the warmth of the electric blanket and the baseboard heater, waking to sunlight and blue sky. We have actually had a lot of that lately, but it has been coupled with bone-aching cold. Not yesterday. I wouldn’t call it hot, but it was warm enough to sit in the sun and wonder where I hid my sunglasses. It was a day when I read in the sun, played guitar in the sun, and walked the dog in the sun before that same sun set in a sky washed with blue and orange that made the water shine like liquid gold.
In the morning, as the sun blasted through the windows, I grabbed one of the big boxes piled up in the garage and started sorting through it. This was my darkroom box, and most of the contents dated back to the mid-1980s when I was processing film and developing photos at work and at home in the bathroom. I found photo paper and chemicals purchased in 1978. Are they still good? Probably not. I threw them away. Who uses film anymore anyway? I found my timer, my dodging tools (anybody know what those are?), colored filters, red light bulbs, and the black bag in which I moved film from the canister to the developing tank. White light would spoil the pictures. Not a problem in these digital days. It was fun to find these old friends and remember those happy hours I spent in the darkroom at various newspaper jobs and at home with the radio blasting, watching pictures magically appear in the tray of developing fluid. I can still smell the ammonia stench of the fixer bath that kept the images from disappearing.
But even more fun was finding the many photos and proof sheets from that era that were also tucked in the box. There’s Fred looking young and handsome, me looking slim and young with tiny Michael at my side. There are Fred’s grandchildren Stephanie and Brandon as babies, their mother Gretchen looking so very young. There’s my mom looking pretty with black hair. Uncle Bob. Cousin Tracy. Oh my gosh, even my first husband Jim and his family. Beloved co-workers from a newspaper in San Jose. A Veteran’s Day parade downtown. Vasona Park. The Santa Cruz Boardwalk. A tree that caught my eye 30 years ago. A flower. A dog. Our first trip to the Oregon coast, back when we had no idea we’d be living here a few years later. Newspaper photos that mean absolutely nothing to me now.
I filled a big trash bag with things not worth keeping, but I saved the family pictures, even the ones where I was clearly still learning my craft. Why bother with anything that has sat in a box untouched for most of 30 years? So that on a lazy day in 2013 I can find old treasures and relive happy times of long ago with people who are no longer around. So that I can know they were real and still mine to keep.
It was a good day. Just the day before, on Saturday, clouds and fog kept us in twilight all day, and I longed to see the sun. God answered my prayers. Next time I whine, remind me of Sunday, Jan. 20. I have no photographs of that day, except for the pictures in my mind, but like the ones in that box, I hope they never fade.