Some bunch of kids, huh? by
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(172 Stories)

Prompted By Group Photos

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My mother and her relatives in 1944

As I thought about this prompt, I took a random walk through boxes of old photos that ended up in my office closet because no one else had room for them. I’m very glad I did. It’s easy to think of group photos as being stiff and stuffy, but many that I found radiated joy–and most of us could use some of that today.

I especially like this photo of my aunt because it captures her sweetness.

On the back of the featured image, in my mother’s spidery, distinctive handwriting, is the phrase “Some bunch of kids, huh?” followed by the date and a list of the kids’ names. There is no indication what the odd background is, or why they are posed in an automobile. Most of the “kids” are cousins or friends of cousins, the relationships too complex to explain here.

My mother, who is the third young woman to the right in the front row, would have been 16 and probably the youngest of the group. To her right is our cousin Joe, who I’ve written about in another story on Retrospect. In the back row on the far left is my aunt Rae, my mother’s older sister, who would have been 19. I especially like this photo of her because it captures her sweetness.

The following photo of my father, nicknamed “Hank,” and his college classmates came to me with the typed caption.

Most of the his class in engineering school were veterans of World War II and were a bit older than traditional college age. I love the exuberance and optimism of the group and remember stories from my dad about the fun they had.

Not all group photos need to be formally posed to be great. I found many candid shots in the boxes from different eras. One taken in 1970, of my mother’s mother’s side of the family, particularly makes me smile.

In this shot, taken in our house after my brother’s bar mitzvah (it had rained and we set up tables in each room for the luncheon), the personalities of my relatives really come through, from disengaged, to shy, to friendly, to funny. My great uncle Saul, who had a knack for being outrageous all his life, is the man waving. My grandmother, to his right and very shy, almost tried to hide. My great uncle Max, the rightmost older man, tended to be on the serious side.

Finally, the last photo I’m including, from 1962, isn’t strictly a group photo, I think, but I really like it because it’s a rare shot where my grandmother wasn’t trying to hide. She is the lady on the right.

 

I think this photo was taken in my family’s back yard. The adult woman is my cousin Betty Samuels, married to my cousin Joe, and with their son Lenny, about four years old, in the middle between Betty and my grandmother. Off to the left, mostly cut off in the original print, is my brother Allan, sitting on the grass. The kneeling girl is me. Why exactly I’m kneeling I don’t know, except that, at the time, I was nine and already was 5′ 4″ tall–taller than Betty and my grandmother. I do remember being self conscious about my height, but at least I’m smiling here.

After the early 1970s, the group photos in the boxes drop off precipitously, for many reasons. I deserve my reputation for being camera shy and because of my height wanted to be in the back row, or MIA, whenever possible. Being introverted, I’ve tended not to associate with large groups anyway. Most important, family members no longer live in proximity, unlike the previous generation, whose relatives all lived in the same borough of New York–but instead began to spread throughout the United States. And, the Baby Boomer and younger generations are smaller, with two- or one-child families instead of those with seven or eight siblings, so there are fewer large family photos.

It was fun to look at these photos and have some smiles during the dead of winter in a pandemic, and it’s time to get serious about digitizing them all.

Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.


Characterizations: been there, funny, moving, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    These are wonderful, Marian. Great photos, great descriptions, great reasons for including them and then for no longer having group photos.

    My mother-in-law grew to be 5′ 10″ (I think by the time she was 12). She was self-conscious about her height, but her mother told her repeatedly how beautiful she was, so she believed her and had a certain self-confidence and warmth about her that was infectious. She was a gracious woman and was not afraid to be photographed. Though the old wive’s tale said that a son marries a woman just like his mother, I am barely 5′ tall. When Dan first brought me home, her response was, “What’s the matter? Don’t you love me?” But she was joking and over the years we discovered that our physical differences were superficial. We had many interests in common, including our outlook on life. She was wonderful to me.

    • Marian says:

      I’m so glad you had a great relationship with your mother-in-law, Betsy. My height was somewhat of a surprise because my mom never made 5′ 2″, so it was commented on a lot. Now tall is good, thank goodness (not that petite is bad, of course).

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    So glad this prompt gave you some smiles as you went though those boxes of family pictures. Your featured image is priceless. What a perfect picture of 1944. I love the way they are dressed and the optimism reflected in a photo taken during WWII, not an easy time.

  3. Thanx for sharing those happy family photos Marian!

    And yes when you get around to digitizing all your photos hop over here and do mine!

  4. Dave Ventre says:

    I’d guess that the featured image was taken using some fake backdrop and maybe even a fake car. Photo studios had such setups. They could also be found in tourist areas like amusement parks, boardwalks et al.

    And yeah, it’s a great looking bunch (I really wish I looked like the guy in the middle at that age…), but Rae was, as the kids say, “totes adorbs!”

    • Marian says:

      The boardwalk makes sense, Dave, because these folks lived in either Queens or Brooklyn. The guy in the middle is one of the few I don’t recognize, unfortunately. And yes, Rae was beautiful. She looked very Asian and when she lived in Japan in the 1960s was often mistaken for Japanese. My mom and I were surprised when our DNA heritage tests didn’t turn up anything Asian.

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    Those are wonderful pictures, so full of life and enthusiasm. It reminds us that parents and grandparents were kids, too (as aren’t we all, somewhere inside). Thanks for sharing them.

  6. John Shutkin says:

    What a terrific collection, Marian. Like others, I especially love the fact that they go way, way back, and are not just limited to our own early days.
    And the stories/notes that accompany the photos are equally enchanting. Of course, I especially love your mother’s comment that well earned its place as the title of your story.

    So glad you could enjoy this photographic trip down Memory Lane — and pre-Memory Lane, for that matter.

  7. Very good looking people and some very illuminating commentaries. Thanks for sharing the results of your investigations and organization!

  8. Suzy says:

    Great photos and story, Mare. While all the pics are treasures, my favorite one is the last one, with you kneeling on the grass, and a wonderful smile on your face. I love getting a glimpse of nine-year-old Marian!

    • Marian says:

      I think I felt safe, Suzy, in the presence of my cousins and especially my grandmother, who was a very critical source of support for me during a childhood that had its problems. I’m grateful for a “smiling” day.

  9. Wonderful ‘vintage’ photos of family. The first one, taken during the war years is intriguing. I think the car is a set, notice the painted background and the lack of windshield. This pic also captures my observation that kids seemed more mature back then, via the depression years, the war.

    I love the chaos captured in the suddenly indoors celebration of your brother’s bar mitzvah. Finally, we catch a pic of you in the last photo with your grandmother. I notice you are as elusive in these pics as you are in your profile here on Retro!

  10. Susan Bennet says:

    Marian, what a fine group of photos. Like others, I find the feature photo especially fine. So finely composed, whether by the photographer’s direction or not. The wide smiles, the demure looks, the enigmatic fellow in the middle. (And how sharply everyone is dressed — no t-shirts and jeans here.) One starts imagining stories for each of these young people. This is a photo one could look at again and again — frameworthy! Thanks for sharing.

    I think you’ have it when you suggest that smaller family sizes and geographically dispersed families may be working against the creation of these photo keepsakes. Let’s hope the selfie fad will run its course.

    • Marian says:

      Thanks, Susan. I do know stories for some of the kids in the photo. My mom is still with us but most of the others are not, unfortunately. It’s frustrating that the enigmatic fellow is someone I can’t identify.

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