Dad and a friend at South Padre Island 1951
My dad’s brother Jesse was at my parents’ house Sunday. While he was there, my mom brought out an old photo album. I don’t think I had ever seen the photos in this album. Quite a few pics of my parents from right after they got married; I’m in the process of scanning them. But anyway, there was one photo in particular that just blew my mind. It’s a photo of my dad at the beach (South Padre Island, I assume) in 1951, so he would have been 21 years old. He’s with a friend, but nobody could remember the friend’s name. Anyway, it amazes me how different my dad looks from the image of him that is fixed in my mind. He looks so cool and relaxed with his jaunty hat, and arm-in-arm with his too-cool-for-school cigarette-smoking pal. I think it blows my mind for two reasons.
One: It reminds me of 1950′s Hollywood publicity glamour photos of stars like Tony Curtis, Kirk Douglas etc., so it blows my mind to speak of my father in the same breath as “glamourous”.
Two: It reminds me of… me. It looks a lot like me when I was in my 20′s. And it even looks like my more recent self. Because it reminds me of me and my friends when we are just relaxing and being casually glamourous together, arm in arm. I have never before seen so much of my recent self in him, or so much of him in my recent self.
It turns my world upside-down when something forces me to see my father as human.
Me and my friend Jaime Rodriguez at Miami Beach 2009
A note from my sister, regarding my fourteen year-old niece, Alex:
Where did Alex come from? She has been asking me to take her to get a manicure/pedicure for some time now. When I hesitated again, she said, “Well ya know the saying… pedicures and haircuts are like confessionals. So if you want to know what’s going on with your daughters, you should take us to the nail salon.” I think she’s been watching too much Housewives of New Jersey.
My sister D. just got back to the states from Scotland, where she was dropping off my niece, Isabel, for her first year of college at St. Andrew’s. D. mentioned that one of the beaches there is the one used for the iconic “running on the beach” sequence in Chariots of Fire. She then mentioned that Isabel had never heard of the film. This made me sigh. For two reasons. One: It makes me feel old. Two: Because I am so envious of my niece – being in a place like this at this particular time of her life.
Chariots of Fire came out in 1981. I didn’t see it at the theater, but I saw it when it was on HBO, so that must have been 1982, when I was 13. The famous segment of the men running on the beach was beautiful and inspiring. But it was the scenes at Cambridge — like the Trinity Great Court run — that affected me more. Those images of the ancient arches and chambers made me want some sort of equivalent university experience mired in tradition and lore. Yale’s faux gothic architecture was created in the 1930′s, but that was close enough for me.
I imagine myself in Isabel’s shoes — being 18 years old and attending the 3rd oldest university in the English-speaking world; running on those same freezing cold bleak gray beaches as did Eric and Harold from Chariots of Fire — It makes my head explode. I am excited for her and I am envious. Freshman year is such a giddily wonderful time – when you are open and optimistic and full of energy and wonder and openness for every possibility. And on top of that, to be in college in another country so far from home. The usual sense of excitement and novelty that comes with the first year at college must be multiplied exponentially. I long for those fearless days and envy her in her new environment. I remember Yale as if it were yesterday. I never thought I would be one of those Old Blues who, at 40, looks back wistfully at youth. But then, I never thought I would be forty. Period. But here I am.