It’s mid-August and there are two memories that linger for me this time of year:
1) the smell of Scotch® Tape
2) air conditioning
Translation, school supplies and the end of summer remind me of my grandparents’ houses in South Florida.
My parents farmed me out to extended family throughout the summer months as soon as I was able to read full sentences. June was spent with cousins in suburbs of Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis. Around the Fourth of July my Aunt Shelly dropped me off at O’Hare for a quarterback toss to Portland, OR where I caught a puddle-jumper for Ashland, OR for a few weeks with another batch of cousins.
But August was reserved for grandparents in Florida. One set were melting the Gulf of Mexico on a small island near Ft. Meyers, FL. And my father’s parents lived inland, farther east toward the Atlantic Ocean.
On the surface, the two couples sat opposite on every spectrum; politically, religiously, and socially.
The “islanders” were yacht club members. They played tennis, toured Europe in the winter, sailed in the spring, and had a swimming pool. My other grandparents played cards, took road trips, visited us in the spring, and had a garden.
It started the day I found a back-issue of LIFE Magazine.
“What’s this?” I asked. It was an issue from 1962. Marilyn Monroe was on the cover. “Why is Marilyn Monroe on the cover?”
My grandfather, a former design-engineer from the auto industry, used every conversation as an opportunity to “look under the hood and take something apart.” He explained the history of LIFE to me.
“But why is Marilyn Monroe on this cover?” I reiterated and pointed at the cover.
I no longer cared why Marilyn Monroe was on the cover. I cared about who the two people, sitting right in front of me, were. What were their stories!?
“Ah well, let me think. What was going on in 1962?” he replied. He turned to my grandmother. They talked through the year, starting with January birthdays followed by an chronological listing of corporate parties, neighborhood events, school plays, and other personal minutiae until they arrived to issue’s month. “Oh! That’s right, that was when your grandmother abandoned me at the airport.” When I got to my other grandparents’ house I learned they had a set of back issues too.
This was how I spent every August from age seven until college.
It was the only time my grandparents stopped being “Gran” and “Gramp” and were Ken/Jackie, Ange/Ernie. They’d survived pre-war broken hearts, overcome Dear John Letters received on the battlefield, and endured forbidden love affairs. They told me stories about being scared parents during Vietnam. And their personal conflicts during the Civil Rights Movement. I learned more about life from their reactions to the printed photos in LIFE than the every day life we shared.
I loved my grandparents because they were my grandparents.
I fell in love with them because I was able to see them; as young couples in the 30s, poor newlyweds in the 40s, and aspirational families in the 50s thanks to those printed photos in LIFE Magazine.
This was thirty years ago and how I got to know my grandparents.
This is what happened because someone took a photograph and printed it.