Photo Essay

The Way We Were


Life these days is just one big blur that moves forward on a superhighway to nowhere. Get up, go to work, pick this up, drop that off, make a deposit, remember a birthday, write an email, send a text, and try like hell to delay the inevitable... another day of the same.

But, every now and again, we spot an off-ramp and jump on it. The sign reads, "Sugar Mountain". Neil Young's voice surrounds us and we are 'there' once more. Back when we were young and time stood still. Back to unassigned and unencumbered. Back to swimmin' holes and city pools and first cars and first kisses. A time when we found freedom in tiny increments and a time when we believed our dreams just might come true.

These off-ramps are hidden in songs and images and words. When we find one, we smile, we laugh, we nod our heads and without any control over the words that give it shape, we recite the memory... with love and in great detail.

Looking over the comments posted to my nostalgic images, I realized that we boomers categorize these memories: 1) childhood and family, 2) then God made boys and girls, 3) high school days, 4) then God made wheels, 5) dreaming the dream, 6) it was the best of times, and 7) a smile and a tear. Using my images, and the words of our JPG friends, this is the way WE were.

The lead image, Magic, was sort of the primer for this photo essay. It is an image that mattered to me and almost no one else. It was my vision of the innocence and joy of childhood. Then JamesHarmon McQuilkin posted this comment, "Creative, and so well composed. Strong symbolism. I'm hearing Neil Young's, Sugar Mountain, with this". The words I posted with the image pale in comparison to Jim's. Therefore, this remembering is shared and it is cumulative.

The next two images, 1948 Dodge Coupe and the Container Store took us all back to our childhood and our family. I remember sitting in the back of a 1940-something Hudson feeling somewhere between a gangster and Edith Ann. Regenia Brabham commented, "A beautiful ride and memory. My daddy has had a few old cars but none as nice as this". JamesHarmon McQuilkin talked about his grandpa, "Funny, my grandfather had one and his father's name was Harmon Hudson". Yeah Reg and Jim, life was good.

The Container Store image brought other memories back to Michael O'Brien, "That tub on the left was what we used for our weekly bath in the NE Iowa farmhouse where I grew up. At that time we did not have running water in the house. Beautiful tone and memories. BTW, I am seventy-two". I lived on a farm as well and took baths in the tub just like Mike. One picture, two memories, linked in time.

When God made boys and girls, we were sprouting stuff that made us blush and trying to figure out what to do with it. The 'figurin' out place' was usually somebody's basement. It generally included a spinnin' bottle and a laundry room. It almost always ended in a poorly executed kiss and a bad case of puppy love. Carol Dandrade knew exactly what I meant when I posted Anybody's Basement 1960's. Her comment, "Absolutely". And I knew exactly what she meant. Ted Anderson's comment made me laugh out loud, "Why was ours called a Rumpus-Room?" Apparently Ted knew what to do with his sprouts.

Then we were on to sock hops, and drive-ins, and cars, and curfews. We had stuff to do man... houses to T-P, parties to crash, excuses to conjure, and bodies to smuggle into the Drive-In. We lived on phosphates, black cows, and the brand new food sensation, pizza. We got caught smoking more than once and drinking beer a lot more than that and, occasionally, we ended up at the police station in town waiting for our parents to come pick us up in the wee small hours of the morning.

The image, Big Boy Root Beer Float, was 'Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure' time machine for a few jpg-ers. Regenia Brabham said, "I miss missing those days. Cool find and capture". Tom Wiederhold commented, "Boy does that bring back some memories. We have this little guy up in our kitchen!" Michele Wambaugh said, "Very amusing and charming!" Susan Griffith commented, "Brings back memories of strawberry pie." And Ted Anderson took the off-ramp to New Jersey, "Perfect. In N.J., it was A&W or Stewart's. Frosted mugs!"

But one of the best things during these years was our ever-growing freedom. We were out on pass and bound by nothing. One of our favorite places to hide was the Drive-In Theater. The most righteous part about it... it was dark. Some pretty scandalous things went down as I recall. Ted Anderson was there, "Ours was the Amboy Drive-In on the banks of the Raritan River in South Amboy, NJ", For the record, neither of us know nuthin'.

The Fender Skirts image recalls our first cars. Regenia's was, "an AMC Concord. Boring! Then a '76 Nova. Not even a cool one. I would have loved to have a ride like this". Generally speaking, it made no difference what it looked like as long as it ran. I remember somebody running behind me pushing the car, then poppin' the clutch to get it going. Operational was all we really cared about.

Senior year was the year of dreams. We were gettin' gone and that spelled freedom; freedom to live it without parents, without rules and without restraint. We dreamed the dreams of Alexander Supertramp... dreams of VW buses and peace signs, and making the world a better place. Carol Dandrade's comment, "Very nostalgic", speaks to the dreams she once dreamed. Karin Burton remembers in specifics, "Oh... my dream car! Then travel the US!! Awesome!"

Too soon reality found us: add a job, get married, buy a house, buy insurance, have some babies, raise the babies, set the curfews, lay down the law. Even so, we remember and we recite our history... to our children and to others when the occasional off-ramp reveals. Why do we do this? The comments posted to 1958 Buick Roadmaster explains why: John McCabe said, "Awesome! You don't see lines like this in cars anymore. This is when cars were cars!!! You caught that feeling of Detroit steel here. Beautiful!" Regenia Amen-ed that, "Cars today all look too much alike to me. No character or personality at all". Brendan Kelly agreed with Regenia, "I love the classics. They had character back then. Today, well not so much."

What are we really saying when we recite our histories? We are saying, "This worked. You ought to give it a try". We are saying, "This is a unique time in history and we are part of it and proud of it". Aaron Schwartz commented on the image, Drive-In, "I miss them".

Universally, we miss it all.

But Thad Zajdowicz said it best. "Brings back memories. Young once more!"

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain

With the barkers and the colored balloons

You can't be twenty on Sugar Mountain

Though you're thinking that you're leaving there too soon

You're leaving there too soon

It's so noisy at the fair

But all your friends are there

And the candy floss you had

And your mother and your dad

There's a girl just down the aisle

Oh, to turn and see her smile

You can hear the words she wrote

As you read the hidden note

Now you're underneath the stairs

And you're givin' back some glares

To the people who you met

And it's your first cigarette

Now you say you're leavin' home

'Cause you want to be alone

Ain't it funny how you feel

When you're findin' out it's real

16 responses

  • Regenia Brabham

    Regenia Brabham gave props (7 Jun 2012):

    This is a great photo essay and I am so very honored to be mentioned it it. It really does take you back in time. Much of this happened before my time but I relive things thru my father's memory as we ride around and I look thru his home. Thank you.

  • Sms lan lan

    Sms lan lan said (7 Jun 2012):

    What a photo I really love it, It's kind melancholic but also a bliss. I really like it.

    Sms lan

  • Michele Wambaugh

    Michele Wambaugh (Deleted) said (7 Jun 2012):

    FAB! Took me down memory lane, a neat trick when it's really your memories. Bravo!

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (7 Jun 2012):

    Thank you Regenia. I was basing this essay on the knowledge that the Boomer Years (per Wiki) are from 1946-1964. Thank you for your comments and the nomination. I am honor and so glad you enjoyed the story of us.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (7 Jun 2012):

    Sms Ian Ian ~ So glad you enjoyed this trip down memory lane. We are such a unique part of history that we have our own name. Now that's cool. Thank you for reading and the props. Much appreciated.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (7 Jun 2012):

    Michele ~ I think that stories like this are sorta' like family photos. If you lived it you love it. If not, where's the exit door? These were great times and it was just a minute ago. Thanks so much for your comments and prop.

  • JamesHarmon McQuilkin

    JamesHarmon McQuilkin   gave props (7 Jun 2012):

    Nostalgia layered within more nostalgia--both past and present. So subtlly-clever and well written. An honour to mentioned in the same article with others--like yourself--that I respect and have admired for so long. The whole 'Sugar Mountain Thing' cracks me up to the core of my mused-soul. I know there are no coincidences, but I'm still amazed from time to time how the Universal Greater Powers allow us all to be a part of each other's 'connect-the-dots' momments. I love 'the way we were; however, I adore the 'way we are'!

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (7 Jun 2012):

    Wow Jim, your final comment is certainly the sum of the parts. I often say I love where I am today and have no need of a do-over. I think it is all part and parcel of being a Boomer. I love your comments, your sense of humor, your generous nature and your work here on jpg. Thank you my friend for sharing your thoughts and yourself so generously.

  • Ted Anderson

    Ted Anderson (Deleted) gave props (7 Jun 2012):

    Bailey- It's artists like you that make JPEG an engaging site. I look forward to your latest images, but what you've written about them as well. You quote Keats, and love '57 Chevys, photographing them lovingly well. A true Renaissance person. Thank You.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (7 Jun 2012):

    Ted ~ I have been a fan since I opened your first image. Your work is soulful, compelling, and captured through the eyes of an artist. I am honor by your words and humbled by your kindness. Thank you Ted.

  • Brendan Kelly

    Brendan Kelly (Deleted) gave props (9 Jun 2012):

    My vote and if I could I'd vote for this again. My friend in high school had an old VW bus and we had some very interesting times in that bus, fun to remember. Reality is an intreging beast and you sumed it up so good. I related, visualized, remembered, and thought how to carry on the memories I have with my girls. I guess this is one of the reasons I love photography and writing, it allows me to do just as I wish. Thank you Bailey, thank you, thank you, and thank you!

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (9 Jun 2012):

    Thanks Brendan for your comments and prop. There is something very special about the boomers and our memories. My dream was me in a VW bus heading west into the sunset. And I agree. Photography helps so much to preserve these memories. I only wish I would have made photography a priority long ago. Our job is to teach this view of life and living to our kids. Sounds like you've got that covered. Love ya' darlin'.

  • Kaki J. Luitjens

    Kaki J. Luitjens said (10 Jun 2012):

    Awesome story and collection of photos!! Well done!

  • Thad Zajdowicz

    Thad Zajdowicz gave props (10 Jun 2012):

    Well done!!! Thanks for your kind comments.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (10 Jun 2012):

    Thanks Karin ~ This story would not have been possible without all of you and the time you took to post comments. Loved your quote. Girl after my own heart. Road trip!!

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (10 Jun 2012):

    Thank you Thad. This photo essay wasn't finished until you arrived. Your comment was certainly the sum of the parts and well said.

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