On April 25, 2020, I was contacted by a representative of the Coney Island History Project’s Oral History Archive who was working on a segment on Coney Island Amusement Park located in Brooklyn, New York.
Years ago, I had written about Coney Island and the organization was interested in recording an audio interview about my experiences in visiting Coney Island.
As part of this project, I was asked if I could provide some photographs of my childhood or young adult years during the time I visited this park. I knew that locating photographs from 60 to 70 years ago would be a challenge. I asked for assistance from my siblings, but also decided to search through my photograph albums. What an experience!
Those of you in my age bracket recall these albums constructed as booklets in which photographs were secured with tabs. While I was searching for my Coney Island photographs, the ones of my father caught my attention.
My thoughts turned to today’s holiday, Father’s Day. I recommend searching old photograph albums for an experience that will conjure up memories of your life, and that of family, friends and acquaintances. It certainly rekindled memories of my father.
On this Father’s Day, join me for that family trip down Memory Lane. These photographic trips were common back in the day.
Some memories that came to mind were of my father assisting me in learning to ride a two-wheel bicycle; teaching me to drive an automobile; protecting me from the trials and tribulations of growing up in a tough neighborhood; and outings during the summer, to the park and trips to Coney Island.
These photographs show the Shelby bicycle that hangs in my garage today. They also brought to mind trips to the junkyard with my father; travels to the springs in Fairmount Park for water; and, shopping for clothing on South Street.
The work my father did in our West Philadelphia home on 43rd Street is noticeable in many of the photographs. The photos of my father decked out in his Sunday best going to church resurrected religious values that resulted in my baptism at age 7; religious values that have remained with me to this day. Photographs of the dinner table brought back memories of his sitting at the head and giving long blessings of the food.
There are also photographs from my school days. I still see my father’s smile as I graduated from high school. I also recall his proud smile as I obtained my first job out of high school; a job I held for a year before going to college. It is hard to forget his smile when I expressed an interest in college or his humongous smile as he witnessed the benefits of his struggles with his own business as a candy maker and a laborer with the Philadelphia Transportation Company (PTC). It was those struggles that helped to make me the first of our immediate family to graduate from college. I know that some of you can relate to this.
Pictures of my father at my wedding are priceless. I can never forget my wedding day when he insisted that we arrive in Smyrna, Delaware, a bit early so that he could meet my future wife’s parents. Yes, my father was truly old school and my getting married without his first meeting my future in-laws was unacceptable. My wife and I received support from my father in purchasing our first home, and moved into on our wedding day. Yes, a major decision like this was possible because of the assistance of the man in many of these photographs: my father.
The birth of our son instilled in him the pride you see in most fathers in recognizing that their last name would continue. On the other hand, the look on my father’s face when I went off to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for my military obligation revealed a sadness that I seldom saw on his face. It was like I was going away forever, never to return.
When I traveled to Newark, New Jersey, to accept employment, I remember his words cautioning me to be leery of this city with its reputation for tough streets and tough politics. Some of the photographs brought back memories of the 1970s, when I was diagnosed and hospitalized for sarcoidosis. My father’s teary eyes at the news and the praise to God when the disease miraculously disappeared are memorable.
I often think about a situation with my parents in the kitchen of their home as my father, with the increasing effects of aging and Alzheimer’s, kept calling me Jeb instead of Alonzo or Lonnie. I never learned who Jeb was. In frustration, I said to my mother, “Mom, I will see you tomorrow.” My father asked me what I called her. “Mom,” I answered. “She is my mother.” My father went into a rage, pointing his finger at my mother and saying, “All these years, all these years (they had been married for more than 50 years), you never told me about him.” As tough as this experience was, I would give anything to observe this incident just one more time as I witnessed it, back in the day.
I lost my father in 1992, at the age of 88. But, the lessons of discipline, respect and honesty I learned from him, I still practice today and will continue for the rest of my life. How I present myself, has everything to do with my father who always reminded me to look and act the part.
Yes, photographs contain untold stories and in my case, whenever I look at them, I recall many personal stories of those fond and wonderful days with my father, back in the day.