While rummaging through photo albums for a Mother’s Day photo to post on Facebook, I stumbled across this picture from a long, long time ago.
This was my gang. Not all the members, but the ones that were lucky enough to attend this particular birthday party gathering, whichever year it was.
We all had that collection of kids that we played with in our younger years. You’d get home from school, find out who was around and then organize a tennis ball baseball game or touch football or hide ‘n seek.
My guess is that we went bowling for this birthday. That was a popular thing to do back then and we had a bowling alley just down the street from where I was raised in Torrance, California. In fact, to this very day, that alley is still operating and occasionally the scene of a PBA event.
It’s hard to imagine the actual number of years since this photo was taken and how much has gone on in my life and the world since then. This is most likely in the middle 1960s. It was back when our TV was still black & white, when only select baseball games were actually broadcast on television, stores were closed on Sunday, you probably had a party line at your house—meaning, when you picked up your phone to use it, someone in your area who shared the line could be talking and you’d have to wait for them to be done until you could make your call.
This was before contact lenses and VCR’s. We had lost John Kennedy, but Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were still around. We had yet to land a man on the moon and we drank gallons of a Kool-Aid type drink called Funny Face (Goofy Grape, Rootin’ Tootin’ Raspberry, Lefty Lemon) that was sweetened with Cyclamates, which they later banned because it caused cancer in rats. Why rats were drinking a soft drink, I do not know. We didn’t wear bike helmets, seat belts were a new thing and despite it all, somehow we survived.
A quick rundown of the players, starting in the back row (apparently the boys’ row) from left to right:
- Glen Rico—Glen was a year older than me, with parents from Mexico. As you can see, he didn’t get the plaid shirt memo that day. It was thanks to his older brother Oscar that I saw my very first Playboy magazine! Well, Oscar didn’t show me. Glen just knew where the stash was hidden. Glen also introduced me to the game of chess and years later, would not only attend the University of Washington, but also become an ophthalmologist over in Kitsap County. After suffering a detached retina several years ago, I was left with a blurry left eye. It was Glen who pointed out to me that it was a cataract and referred me to a doctor over here in Seattle. Once again, I have clear vision in both eyes which will come in handy should I ever stumble across some of Oscar’s old magazines.
- Kelly Toman—Kelly was a year younger than me, but of all the friends, we were probably the closest. His dad and mine coached our Little League team together. We were both junior lifeguards own at Hermosa Beach. Not only were we Cub Scouts, but we both had moms named Fran and they became our Den Mothers. Kelly went on to become a firefighter and I would get occasional life updates on him through the years, but we didn’t really stay in touch. He was kind enough to come to my dad’s funeral last year and it was incredibly awesome to see him again. We haven’t communicated since, but I’m sure when we do see each other again, we’ll just pick up where we left off.
- Kenny Vaughn—Kenny lived down the street and came from a family of 8, if I remember correctly. There are several things I remembered about Kenny. He had the neighborhood hip mom. While the rest were living the 1960s housewife dream, Kenny’s mom was seriously into pop culture. I remember hearing that she took her kids to “Yellow Submarine” on opening weekend because she was such a huge Beatles fan and I remember thinking, “That’s a COOL mom!” Kenny’s oldest sister was Penny…slightly younger Lori was the stunner of the group….and Sandy was the freckled-faced younger sister who I think we all had crushes on at one point or the other. I always wondered what happened to them. Not a clue.
- Kerry Freeman—Another “I wonder what ever happened to him” flashback. Kerry attended the same parochial school as me, Emmanuel Lutheran. It was probably the following year that the church voted to close the school and all the kids that were a day-to-day part of my life suddenly scattered. Kerry also had a cute sister, Tina. Then again, when you’re that age, maybe everyone’s sister is cute.
- Me—Yeah, I know too much about me. Let’s move to the lower row, where the girls apparently needed to be.
- Karen Belcher—Karen and I were the same age and she loved playing sports with the guys. That probably earned her the label, “a tomboy”, but she was kind, happy and her parents talked funny. They had that southern drawl thing going. It turned out they were from West Virginia, where my Scottish father was raised. Karen eventually worked for a local police department, but I believe she is retired now. We saw each other at high school and such, but by then we were just on different paths. Although I should mention that she did help play a role in telling another girl that I liked another girl, who eventually became a girlfriend, so I should thank her for that.
- Terri Hunter—Yes, my sister, the middle child. Oh, the things I did to my sisters. One was a procedure called “Von.” Terri would have her hair exactly the way she liked it, I would reach up and my hands would act like egg-beaters on her hair as I said, “Vonnnnnnnnnnnn!!!!!” I have no idea where that came from. I also liked to make her and my other sister Debbie, laugh, especially when it wasn’t appropriate, like at the dinner table. I’d get them to crack up, milk would come out of someone’s nose and mom would yell at them. But being flustered she didn’t know where to aim her attention and would confuse the names: “Dairy! Tebbie! Awwww!!!!” And that made it all worth it.
- Debbie Hunter—Yes, apparently she and Terri were twins that day. You gotta remember, this is back when moms stayed at home and some moms even sewed clothes for their kids. Their look was probably a McCall’s pattern that mom mastered on her machine.
- Shelly Toman—Kelly’s younger sister, the same age as Debbie and apparently bowl haircuts were the ‘in’ thing that year. (probably a Sound of Music aftermath) Shelly and Debbie were besties for quite a few years growing up, at least, that’s how I remember it. Plus, more kids at your birthday party means more presents, right?
Those years seem like forever ago, but start heading down that path and a flood of memories get knocked loose. I remember them as good years, learning years and everything The Wonder Years would talk about decades later.
As you’re growing up, you can’t wait to get older. To move on to the next phase of life. Then, after you’ve done that a bunch of years, you start realizing the importance of the now and how, maybe, you should have appreciated those years a little bit more.
It’s never too late, so let me just say thanks for all the great memories to that old gang of mine. You were an important part of my own long, strange trip.