From the Fortress of Solitude
Gather around and hush up, its time to get together in another virtual reunion to visit, ponder, reminisce and chuckle at a few treasures pulled from the yellowing, cracking pages of yet another of Grandma Violet's photo albums.
Scanning pictures from aging albums can be a tricky exercise, especially old albums with sticky pages covered by a sheet of clear plastic. Over the years the photos cement to the sticky pages. Surgery is the only way to separate them. Someday I'll post a picture of me in full surgical garb operating on one of these pages with scalpel and tweezers. If I'm not careful I can rip a picture with one tug, sending a beautiful pristine image to an early death.
Today we will walk down Memory's There and Back Again Lane to the late 1960's. The place, South Dakota (yes it was a part of the United States back then and no, contrary to what you may have heard, we lived in a real house with indoor plumbing and electricity). We will make two stops during our stay. 1. Rapid City and the home of the Williamsons at 2214 38th Street. and 2. Spearfish at the home of John and Beverly Mattson.
We start with the eldest of the six Williamson children in residence. Kim Williamson (now DelGrosso) was 12 years old when this picture was taken in September 1969. Notice how perfect. Notice the posture. Notice the smile. Notice the hair. Luella actually took her time with Kim's hair. The rest of us got the tale end of her patience on hair cuttin day, and believe me that is not where you wanted to be when Luella was holding sharp clippers.
Anyone passing the house on hair cuttin day would have heard lots of "Oops!" then screams then slaps on exposed thighs (her "giving us something to cry about") then more screams because she'd actually carried through with her threat and given us 'something to cry about', then the inevitable "Live with it," to shut down any further objections to the crop circle she'd executed on your scalp.
Did the Princess ever have to wear a cap for a month or so to hide the train wreck hidden underneath her cap? No.
I give you Princess Kim, the darling of the family, practically perfect in every way...........
Now guess, who was lucky enough to follow Madam Kim in the birthing order?
Me! This is Me in September 1969. I'm eleven years old. It seemed Fortuna, the Goddess of Fortune and Luck had it in for me from the moment I was born. Notice the glasses. I got them in 4th grade. Who gets glasses in the 4th grade!? Mind you, they are good lookin for 1969.
Aw, who am I kiddin. Let me tell you about those glasses. I got marched into Standard Optical in Rapid City and told to sit down while Luella surveyed the wall of frames for something she could afford.
"Got anything made of tin foil?" she asked the optician. The optician laughed.
"How about frames made of pipe cleaners?" he chimed in not realizing Luella wasn't joking about the tin foil.
"Good Grief," I sighed and sat under a table.
"These are all too expensive," she pronounced after a two minute ponder. "No glasses for you. Tell the teacher you need to sit in front of the chalkboard and stay in from recess so you don't get hit in the head with a ball."
She took my hand to leave. The optician stopped her.
"Lady, I've got some hand me down frames. Would you like to see them?" He pulled out a box of used glasses kept under the cash register. The box was labeled, "For the Unfortunate Dakota Children. Love, Your Friends in Africa". He handed me the pair you see in the picture above.
"Those glasses once belonged to a Swahili Chief," he said. "He was very brave. He killed many lions and tigers and bears."
"There are no bears in Africa," I replied.
"Well, Giraffes then." He was frustrated.
"If these were his glasses, then why do I have them? What happened to him?" I asked.
"A lion got him. Didn't see it coming, did he?"
"Good Grief," I said looking through the crooked glasses. I suddenly felt very much like Charlie Brown.
By the way, go back and look at what I'm wearing in the picture. That shirt is 100% polyester. It snagged every time someone sneezed within 4 feet of me.
Notice I'm a few pounds overweight? My five brothers and sisters were bone skinny. What happened to me?
I wasn't stupid. I knew we didn't have a lot of money. I knew every meal might be our last for several days. I was a survivalist. I realized eating a few extra calories when food was available might be the difference between living to the next meal or starving to death under a pile of clothes in the jungle we called The Utility Room. If it was in the cupboard and eatable, I ate it.
It was "Every Man for Himself!" at the dinner table in our family. I was not going to go hungry, especially if I was the only one who had to wear glasses, and that's for damn sure.
Kevin came next in the birth order. Notice he got school pictures two years in a row. What's up with that? I got a school picture in 1969 and another when I graduated from High School in 1976 (and I had to pay for that one myself!).
Notice his hair in both. Didn't I tell you Luella and clippers were a dangerous combination when her patience was "shot to hell". You could tell what kind of hair cut you were going to get on Hair Cuttin Day (which came the day before bath day) by looking into her eyes. If her eyes were normal, you might walk away with a hair cut that let you blend in with the other home hair cut kids who sat in the back of every classroom in the 1960's.
If Luella's eyes were partially blood shot then the sides might look OK but the top might come out lopsided (a sneeze of hair on one side of the head, and a mop on the other). This wasn't good for Kevin because he loved to run. A lopsided top meant extra hair on one side of his head. The extra weight caused him to run in large, wide circles. Very amusing to the rest of us, especially at supper time.
"Kevin, its supper time. We called you and you didn't come. There's hardly anything left!"
Imagine a kid with a lopsided hair cut, running in large circles trying to get into the house before all the food was gone? Ah, those were good times.
If Luella's eyes were completely blood shot then there was no hope. You either ran away as fast as your little legs could carry you our you resigned yourself to a fate worse than death.
In case you were wondering, boys buttoned their dress shirts all the way to the top back then. I don't know why, but we did.
Finally, notice the large gap between Kevin's teeth in the 8 year old picture? I thought I'd point that out.
This is 6 year old Janice Williamson (now Burrows), Canyon Lake Elementary's Little Miss Congeniality in 1969. She nearly drove the photographer to drink.
"Smile," he'd say. Janice sat motionless, staring blankly into the camera.
"Come on honey. Give us a smile."
"I am," Janice responded in a monotone voice.
"Think of something happy," Janice's teacher suggested hoping to get her off the stool so the line of waiting children would start moving.
"What have I got to be happy about?" Janice was our optimist. Never a dull moment around her.
I'd like to point out something interesting. If you look closely at Janice's picture (click on the picture to enlarge if you want) you'll notice the faintest sign of a smile on both corners of her mouth. In my humble opinion, this picture of our sister Janice was the photographer's Mona Lisa.
Look, the smile is the same! That vacant, "no one is home" look is THE SAME! This picture of Janice is pure gold. It needs to be properly framed and donated to a local museum so future generations can admire it's beauty and hidden, very hidden qualities.
By the way, Luella's eyes were completely blood shot on the day Janice got her 'Picture Takin Day' hair cut and bath. Janice survived the ordeal. Her secret was the dress. Notice the hypnotic pattern of geometric shapes and colors? The dress kept people's eyes away from her face and hair. The dress mesmerized them. She wore that dress off and on until her graduation from High School.
Janice's twin. Our brother Jonathan also got his picture taken two years in a row. Is it just me or does it look like Jon didn't age that year?
Jon and Janice were opposites. Janice made a great place holder if you ever needed someone to keep your place on the couch while you went to the bathroom. Jon was full of personality and cheer. He loved strangers and spoke to them whenever he had the chance.
"Where's Jonathan," mother would ask at 11:00 P.M.
"He's outside talking to another stranger," we'd reply, and he most likely was.
Strangers gave Jonathan the love and attention he didn't get from the rest of us, being the kid stuck in the middle of a large family of six children. Of course in those days strangers weren't as dangerous as they are today. Besides, we all carried pocket knifes and could kill, skin and cook a bear in one hour - no problem. Remember, we're talking about South Dakota. You never knew if an Indian would break into the house and try to get you to part with your scalp in the middle of the night. Everyone carried some kind of weapon (Dad had his 22 pistol. Luella had her clippers).
Jon usually fell asleep in front of the TV late at night. Waking him up for bed was the family's real entertainment for the night.
"Jon, get up!" He wouldn't move.
"Jon, wake up!" Jon would sit up and look blankly around the room. "It's time for church. Mom's waiting for you in the car. Hurry."
Jon did just what you told him to do. He went outside in the winter at 10:00 P.M, opened the door of the Rambler, got in and sat - waiting for mom to take him to church.
Life was good in those days.
Jilane Williamson (now Bodily) was the youngest in 1969. She was five in the picture above. She needed glasses because of her wandering eyes. I believe her glasses came from the Swahili Chief's wife.
Because of her wandering eyes, you never knew who she was looking at. One eye pointed north while the other pointed south. She made an excellent compass if you ever got lost in the woods. For many years Jilane thought our family was composed of twin dads, twin moms and 12 brothers and sisters. She thought she had a twin double because of the double reflection she saw whenever she looked into the mirror. She spoke to her twin for many years. The neighbors suggest we institutionalize her. She had surgery to correct her vision when she was young. She was traumatized by the loss of her double.
Poor Jilane, she was always the last to get her hair cut. She was young and it really didn't matter what she looked like.
We called her Tootie back then. UNDER PAIN OF DEATH AND DISMEMBERMENT DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, CALL HER TOOTIE TODAY. She will kill you, then hunt down your children, grand children and will stay alive out of sheer spite to get your great grandchildren.
I wish we would have kept those glasses. I'd pay real American money to get them back if they ever turned up on Ebay or something. Priceless, that's all I can say.
AND NOW, SPEARFISH.
The following pictures were taken at the home of John and Beverly Mattson when they lived in Spearfish South Dakota. The home used to belong to Grandma and Grandpa Mattson.
Gina knew how to handle herself then and that hasn't changed one bit today.
To this day, Kirk still stays at least one arm's length away from Gina.
She never forgets a wrong done. Never.
I remember that kitchen well. Kim and I used to spend a week with Grandma and
Grandpa during the summers. I loved that kitchen. It had a real automatic dishwasher!
OK Folks. That's enough for today. Thanks for reading and spending some time down 'There and Back Again Lane'.