If I could choose one photograph to support my point that there was a time when style, deportment, and for lack of a better word, class; were independent of education, income and background, it would be this one. Even the folks more casually dressed are well put together. And dig the wallpaper.
Thanksgiving dinner? Christmas dinner? Nope. This was just a typical Sunday when my mother and her sibs could congregate a representative number of the clan—post church. My sister, LFG and I drove by this house the other week when I was recently home in S.C. It’s my aunt Inez’s old house. My mom is the baby of ten and aunt Inez was the oldest. She was the matriarch of our clan and rightfully so. A nurturer and helper…a Public Health Nurse by training…loved by all who knew her. Maybe she’s taking this photo because unfortunately she’s not in it. And neither am I.
This photo predates my birth and on the right flank, you see some of my older first cousins…the ones who were crazy for all of the music coming from the British Invasion as well as the regional R&B stuff in the South. And certainly…all the riffs rolling out of Motown and Philly. This right flank assemblage is the reason I know that music so well.
Another thing hit me the other day when I was drinking this picture. Vietnam devoured all of these boys. Luckily they all came back physically intact. One cousin in the photograph made a career out of the Navy…he went on to be a nuclear sub guy and is eerily—uber mensaniacally smart. Scary I say. On the other end of the spectrum, one cousin at the table never recovered from what he saw and did on a Swiftboat.
But let’s talk clothes. This was a time when everyone, regardless of their station in life, followed a code that while not necessarily a detailed road map, was a deportment guide—a carriage-compass I suppose.
This is my dad. I only remember him in two guises. Either a shirt and tie or pajamas. I’ve been intent on doing a story about this man but I lose my resolve every time I sit down to it. He was a clothes fanatic and I’m not surprised that he is sporting a bow tie to Sunday dinner.
My uncles…Jim and Jake. My uncle Jim owned a grocery store and I loved going there when I was a kid. I would hand him a dollar in purchase of a handful of candy and he would hit every button on the cash register in a high drama display…then give me three bucks in change. He and my aunt Kat had a daughter and I was kind of the son my uncle Jim never had. Uncle Jake hosted some memorable fireworks boondoggles during my childhood Christmases…we coulda blown up half of South Carolina with what he hauled in for us to ignite. Jake was a WWII veteran…one of the Greatest Generation. Hell, all of my aunts and uncles were/are great.
Three of the seven sisters. My aunt Kathleen (Kat) my mom and my aunt Selma. My aunt Kat is eighty four and lives a mile from my mom. She outlived Uncle Jim and two other husbands. Damn. Aunt Selma is eighty seven and lives ten miles from my mom…all these women are strong but my aunt Selma has an extra level of resolve. She’s travelled the world…often times alone.
My “Big Fat Granddaddy”…not really big and fat but my other grandfather was skinny so that’s how I sorted them out. I own the watch he’s checking. Suspenders? Never did I see him without braces. And that’s Mr. Nuclear Sub Savant leaning in. His nickname is C.H. … Constance is his first name and I forget what the “H” stands for. We can hang a name on you down South. My first name is a zinger. And the mischievous fella to his left is my cousin Ricky who went through a zillion women and four livers at Chapel Hill. There is a history of drink in my family. But there’s also a history of people living forever.
Thanksgiving dinners at home rarely see this level of sartorial thoughtfulness and certainly, Sunday dinners tilt more towards sweatshirts and baseball hats it seems. Butcept my aunt Inez would have none of that.