I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, March 31, 2019

A picture from my distant past

Flint, Michigan
I received this picture last week in a text from my son's widow, who lives in Germany. She must have been going through his pictures and decided to send me this one, since she didn't know who it was. Well, that pregnant lady is me, all right. That's Chris climbing into the back seat next to a laundry basket.

At first I was puzzled by the date on the picture, because (1) that is not what it looks like in Michigan in November, and (2) Stephen was born in August of that year. Considering our clothing, I figure it must have been July, and the pictures languished in the camera for several months before being developed. You remember those days, don't you? When you had to wait for prints that came in a Kodak package at the local store? How times have changed.

There were no seat belts in that old car, either. It had definitely seen better days, but I, on the other hand, was dressed and coiffed for a trip to the laundry. Underneath that top I was obviously wearing one of those skirts that had a stretchy waist and an elastic insert for the growing tummy. It's been a long time since I've seen anybody wearing one of those. These days pregnancy is not hidden; it's perfectly okay to show everything.

Chris looks so small and vulnerable as he climbs into the car. Derald had to be the photographer and might even have been going with us. Maybe we were going somewhere else first, who knows? I don't even remember seeing this picture before. It is taken in front of our rented home, where we lived for several years. Flint was Derald's home town, and the water back then was perfectly drinkable, and the city was a quiet town of around 200,000. I just looked up the figures and found that the population began to decline after 1960, falling to 140,000 by 1990. Now, since the water crisis, it's around 96,000.

Chris, Stephen and Derald are gone now, and I am living in a different part of the country, married to another man and living in retirement from my working life. I lived in Flint for nine years before moving to California. When Chris was around 12, he stopped living with me and went back to Flint to live with his father and stepmother. I was unfettered and began to travel around the country and Mexico with a girlfriend. My, when I look back at my life, I am amazed at how many different people I've been. By the time I ended up in Colorado in 1974, I had lived in many different places and felt homeless. Boulder, Colorado ended up being the place I would call home.

I found a career in Boulder and worked for thirty years at the National Center for Atmospheric Research before retiring at 65 and moving to the Pacific Northwest, where I now enjoy another quiet town of around 200,000 people, and have a comfortable routine that will continue until either illness or advanced age changes my regimen. I love Bellingham and its surroundings and have found my second home. Interestingly, I rarely think about the past, or Colorado, or any of the other places I've lived, unless I'm writing about it, or unless a picture from the past emerges from the ether, as this one did.

I've lived a life of moderate comfort, although loss and grief have given me plenty of challenges to face. But really, it's nothing like the lives of many I see every day, or read about every day. The world has changed so very much in the last half century. Just yesterday I watched, on Hulu, a documentary that drove that home for me: Minding the Gap. It was released last year and has received rave reviews, well deserved if you ask me. (The link is to a review by A.O. Scott at the New York Times.)

It's about three young men growing up today, and covers about a decade in their lives. The glue that binds them together is skateboarding. They live in Rockport, Illinois, and none of them have much hope of making it out of their difficult lives. One of them, Bing Liu, a Chinese-American young man, is the filmmaker. He started videotaping their exploits when they were in middle school, and followed their lives as they gained skill in skateboarding. It was all that kept them going at times.
It’s not only the glue that binds them to one another through tough times but also a source of identity and meaning, a way of life and a life saver. “Minding the Gap” is more than a celebration of skateboarding as a sport and a subculture. With infinite sensitivity, Mr. Liu delves into some of the most painful and intimate details of his friends’ lives and his own, and then layers his observations into a rich, devastating essay on race, class and manhood in 21st-century America.
In watching the documentary, I began to care very much about these young men and their lives. Keire Johnson is black and worked as a dishwasher for a long time before finally becoming a waiter. He was able to buy himself a car, and he describes how he has placed his registration, insurance, and license on the dashboard so he would not have to reach into a pocket or make any moves that could be construed by a policeman as threatening.

That got me to thinking about my own life, my white privilege, and that I would never have thought to be afraid that I might be shot when stopped for any reason, but that a young black man must think about that every single day. I don't know that life except through documentaries. But I have learned, through watching this one, how scary and dangerous it is to be growing up in the world today, especially as a person of color.

It's been a long, long time since that picture was taken, and the world has changed immeasurably. Now that I am in the twilight of my own life, having gone through all the heartache and pleasures that these three young men still have ahead of them. I am extremely glad that there are such sensitive and moving documentaries as this one to help put myself in their world. My own world seems quaint in comparison, but I am happy to be alive today, to experience the myriad flavors of the lives of others.

And now it's time for me to join my own circle of friends, starting my own Sunday, first with this post and second with my journey to the coffee shop. My friend Gene will not be there, since he left for a trip to Mexico yesterday to join family members there. John and I will hold down the fort until he returns.

My dear partner sleeps next to me, my tea is gone, and I'm back from my excursion into Sunday morning musings. I do hope that you, my dear virtual friends, will have a wonderful week ahead, with lots of love and adventure (if that is what you want). I myself will enjoy my routine and be grateful for every day and every week that I can continue it. Be well until we meet again next week.


Linda Reeder said...

Receiving that photo must have brought both sweetness and sorrow.
Yesterday we explored the island in the sunshine. Today we will be on hands and knees tackling the weeds in the cabin garden, but again in the sunshine. I guess life is like that. Some days are sunshine, the sea and blue sky; some days are head down in the weeds.

ain't for city gals said...

beautiful post....thank you.

Sandi said...

It is funny where life takes you.

My heart ached when you talked about your sons. (I also clicked over to your post about his passing). I have two sons also.

William Kendall said...

Wonderfully said.

Elephant's Child said...

A thoughtful and lovely post. Thank you.
I do indeed remember the days when photos stayed in the camera until I could afford to have them developed.
My heart aches at the idea of having to have your documents accessible so that reaching for them cannot be construed as a threat. We have made incredible progress in some areas, and next to none in others.

Arkansas Patti said...

Interesting what memories that picture brought back. Sometimes a family member or friend will send me pictures they think I want as they clean out their albums. Once I said, "Who is that" and it turned out to be me. Yes I remember those rolls and I usually got the 24's. Took forever to fill them up and often forgot what was on the first part. Love digital.

Marie Smith said...

The photo is a treasure. How fast life slips by us.

Far Side of Fifty said...

What a great old photo! It brought back lots of memories for you! :)

Red said...

As always a good look back in one's life. All these experiences go to make what you are today. As time goes by each generation has a different experience. We are making some very bitter people by the way they are treated by the law. Here it's aboriginal young men who pay a high price. An old photo that you've never seen can bring back old memories.

Rian said...

Great photo! And great hair style... it looked very familiar. I love seeing old pics that I've never seen. My cousin sent me some of my kids when he was visiting us back around 1971 (they were 2 and 1 at the time - now 50 and 49 - how time flies!). And yes, times have changed too. So much has happened - not all good, but not all bad either. We may never get it right, but we have to keep trying.

Anonymous said...

Our only child knows the film maker I watched it on tv public tv..I cried when it was on, I felt so sorry for the African American fellow and the fellow who fathered a child with the lady in the film but I really sobbed about Bing's life and how he was abused by his step father and how he confronted his mother and how it worked out..We got married in 1974 and lived near Boulder in Broomfield and I saw my doctor for our baby born in 1977 in Boulder it was a lovely town but so dadblasted hot in 1977 we loved coming home to the pacific northwest in 1978..we go to the beach Washington all the time, our only graduated from Western Washington and worked for the president of the university a lovely lovely human being she has many friends in B-ham as I call it..When I read your sunday posts I am always happy you are a strong vibrant and caring human being..so much love and peace, I am sending good thoughts for a spectacular april and may coming up..take care and enjoy your sweet life in B-ham!!!!!!!!!!

Rita said...

It does seem like we've traveled through many lifetimes to me, too, when I see old pictures or think about the past. Yes, I remember times when precious pictures were in the camera from one Christmas to the next--and times it took almost as long to have the money to get them developed--LOL! And now we have the digital age.

I have Hulu because of the 99cents a month for a year special they had after Thanksgiving. I will definitely have to watch this! Thanks, Jan. :)

gigi-hawaii said...

We all go through changes, don't we? You were indeed privileged to be a white woman.

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, I always enjoy reading your reflections on life. I can identify exactly with what you said about white privilege ... that has been my experience as well. Thanks for sharing Eye on the Edge and for your kind comments on my blog. Have a happy rest of the week. John