Family of Friends by
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Prompted By Vintage Photos

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In the ‘80s, on our own, distant from relatives, and for the first time unaffiliated with a university, we began to form a family of friends. The first of these stemmed from a community chorus we joined in 1983, and the group blossomed outward from there. When we moved to Portola Valley in 1987, our home became one of the places we congregated. This photo was taken on our deck, looking west toward the coastal range.

We were as close as family without the drama or angst.

I honestly don’t recall much about the event. It was someone’s birthday and it looks like a dry California fall, so maybe it was Jenny’s (foreground), since she seems to be reading a card, or maybe it was Mark’s (having a moment with Patti) or mine, or maybe we were celebrating all three at once. Someone, probably Lou (perched on the rail, and a frequent source of humor) or maybe Ray (seated at right), had said something hilarious, and you can see the reaction. It gives me joy to see Patti laugh so freely. Alcohol or another lubricant might have been involved, but we needed none.

What I love about this photo is how comfortable and easy we were together, how much pleasure we took in each other. We were as close as family without the drama or angst. Our family of friends has evolved since then, but I still love this photo and I still love these people.

Profile photo of John Zussman John Zussman
John Unger Zussman is a creative and corporate storyteller and a co-founder of Retrospect.


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    It is lovely to see the closeness of the group, and the happy merriment, with everyones’ heads thrown back in easy laughter and rapport. A moment of closeness and ease, captured for all time.

  2. Suzy says:

    Great photo, John, although it is a sobering thought that something from the 1980s can be described as “vintage” – wasn’t that just yesterday? I love your description of a group of friends who were as close as family without the angst. Are you still in touch with all of them?

  3. Great choice of ‘family,’ John. It is a great moment, hilarity caught in an ecstatic moment.

  4. My birthday. 1987. I love this photo too. And the people in it and the one who took it.

  5. John Shutkin says:

    Thanks for broadening my mind as to what can be “vintage,” John — though, as noted, it is sobering to think that the 80’s might qualify. I still envision daguerreotypes. And it is such an exquisite moment of everyone being happy, it is hard to believe that this was not posed. But that is what makes the picture — and the story and the moment — so perfect. That said, my cousins-in-law who also live in Portola Valley describe life there as pretty idyllic, so I am not entirely surprised. Thanks so much for sharing!

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