The Power of an Old Photo

I’ve got photo book after photo book in the bookcase to my right. A couple of them are filled with childhood snapshots, while others showcase my college antics. There are also collections of family shots that I occasionally look at, amazing me how quickly time has gone by.

I’ve seen ’em all, multiple times, and have mental pictures of all of them somewhere in my mind, so I’m not surprised when I see them again.

The other day, I got an email from my high school buddy, Tank. After high school graduation, the two of us headed north together for our adventures at the University of Washington. His sister-in-law had been going through some old photos and came across this one:

I gave a quick glimpse and went, “Wow!” There was me fresh out of high school, along with Tank carrying a bag which I’ll assume were donuts.

In the original email, Tank’s sister-in-law originally asked, “Does anyone know who the girl is?” and as I was originally viewing this on my phone and a much smaller screen, I said, “I wasn’t sure.”

But later in the day, I got a chance to view this on my desktop and a much larger screen and I knew right away.

This was a photo I didn’t have a copy of. It was the first time I had seen it and boy, did it knock the memories loose.

That was back in the day when the fashion sense of my world was jeans or cords and white t-shirts. If we had met in the summer of 1973, this is what I would have looked like. The hair, starting to lengthen as I headed off to college. That Honda Civic I was resting my arm on–my parents bought that for me, brand new, from the Honda dealership in Torrance, California. The price: $2800.

I know the photo was taken in September of 1973 as Tank already owned a blue Honda Civic. Notice my Civic didn’t have a license plate and had the dealer paper in the rear window, so this must have been after we bought it and before I drove up to Seattle in mid-September.

This is when I had the world by the horns. I had gotten into a major university and by getting a Washington State driver’s license and getting Washington plates when I arrived up north, in a year, my out-of-state tuition would go down from $527 a quarter, to a mere $188 for in-state tuition. Yes, I was going to become a Washington state resident.

But back to the girl in the photo. That was my high-school girlfriend, the girl across the street, who I planned to marry someday. This was the girl I had a crush on during my sophomore year, managed to start “going steady” with at the end of my junior year and spent my senior year doing all the things a high school couple did in those days. She had graduated the year before and attended an occupational school during her high school years, so she was off on her career as a dental assistant.

I was absolutely nuts about this girl, but looking back, I know I had a lot of growing up to do. The only thing I knew about relationships was what I had seen on TV and watching what other high school couples were like. With some ups and downs over our first year, in my mind, it made sense for me to go away to school and see if the relationship could survive time apart. While I didn’t come home from college for the first two months, thanks to my dad’s airline employment (he was a ground mechanic for United Airlines), I was able to start flying home for weekends for just $6 round trip. $12 if I wanted to travel First Class.

My learning curve about long-distance relationships included a $114 phone bill for our first month apart. I quickly learned to get that under control.

When I returned home for the summer after my freshman year of college, I worked at the United Airlines flight kitchen and continued my relationship with “that girl.” In the fall, I returned to the Northwest, I continued to fly home every couple of weeks, and again, everything was going according to plan. I would graduate in a couple of years, go to work at United Airlines as a ticket reservation agent, get married and everything would just continue to fall in place.

My old radio pal Larry Nelson liked to say, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans for your life.”

It was a Thursday morning near the end of my sophomore year at the U-Dub. I had worked in the kitchen that morning, either frying up 1,000 eggs, or flipping 1200 pancakes, when my roommate let me know she had called and really needed to talk with me. Sure, as soon as I get off work, no problem.

By 8:30am, I was done and headed up to my room. I called her number and that’s when everything changed. I was informed she had a sign from God that she needed to break up with me. I tried to talk her out of it, there was crying, but her mind was made up. We were officially a formal couple.

Several months later, that girl and the youth minister that helped her realize God wanted her to break up with me, got married.

50 years later, I hear from friends and relatives that they’re still together, so I guess God knew what he was doing. As I look back with the advantage of hindsight, it definitely was something that happened in both of our best interests. She got the world she wanted and I took a scenic route to the amazing life I enjoy today.

It’s probably why I’m such a big believer in the thought that we are an accumulation of all the experiences we’ve gone through. That includes everything and I mean everything, good and bad, happening for a reason. I look back at that high-school-into-college relationship and while there were many seriously magical moments, the pain of that breakup was brutal. But, as we’ve all learned by now, life is a series of ups and downs–and you just have to savor the ups and deal with the downs.

That picture triggered a lot of memories and took me back to a time I haven’t visited lately. You would-be screenwriters, maybe I’ll get around to it someday, but I’ve got this idea for a clinic that offers “Flashback” treatments. You go in, they use their machine to allow your brain to take you back to a moment in your life that you’d like to visit just one more time–the birth of a child, a breakup, a great moment in your life–and then, while you’re there, you see why things happened the way they did, so you have a better understanding of that critical moment in your life. Then, you can get back to appreciating the life you are actually enjoying today. Or, should be enjoying.

Wow. The power of an old photo.

Tim Hunter

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