First Words — 06 March 2020
Our life in pictures, and the ones left behind

By Mark Gauert

City & Shore PRIME

The book sat on my grandfather’s shelf, then at the bottom of a closet in my parents’ house, then, finally, in a Hefty bag in my garage.

I was cleaning house last summer when I found the 1957 copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. It smelled musty, the pages were yellow, and the binding cracked and crinkled in my hands. My grandfather was long gone. My parents had given the book to me because they’d been cleaning their house. It was well on the way to the curb at my house when, for some reason, I decided to riffle the pages.

And out dropped a photo of my grandfather.

We don’t have many photos of my grandfather Henry. He was born before selfies, before cameras were in widespread use, really; and he believed people who owned them during the Great Depression had an obligation to photograph places – not people – to show folks back home who couldn’t afford to travel. His slide shows were filled with photos of mountains and bridges and monuments, but very few of my grandmother, or my dad, or me.

But there he was in glossy black and white, seated at a fancy tableclothed table with another man and woman I didn’t recognize. They were well dressed, smiling and playfully pounding the table like they wished the photographer would stop taking pictures already so they could eat.

Photographed aboard RMS Queen Mary,” the caption read.

So that’s how they got a photograph of my grandfather, I thought. Somebody else was finally in charge of the camera.

I know you’ll find this next part incredible, but the carry-on bag my grandmother took with her on the Queen Mary was right next to the Hefty bag containing my grandfather’s book. And, because her bag still had a sticker with the date of the cruise, I know the photo was shot in October 1964.

The image caused a stir in my family. Look at that long-lost smile! Look how happy he looks! Look how everybody’s wearing a tie at dinner … on a cruise ship! I’ve been to sea recently, and I can attest that nobody’s wearing a tie to dinner on a cruise ship anymore.

The look back not only made me happy, it made me wonder.

We live in a time when we take photographs all the time. We take photos of our dogs, our cats, ourselves, our tacos al carbon, and post them endlessly online. But we also live in a time of limited data plans, so we’ve got to keep deleting photos so we can shoot more dogs, cats, selfies, tacos.

I wondered, looking through the photos in our Looking Back feature this issue, if we’ll always have images like these of the way people looked, and lived, and smiled. Images in age-defying black and white or color, preserved in negatives and printed on paper.

Riffle through these pages and you’ll see Don Shula carried aloft by his triumphant Dolphins in 1972. You’ll see people buying cassette tapes – a stunningly new way to listen to music at the time – at Peaches Record & Tapes in Fort Lauderdale. You’ll see power boats tied up for a show at Miami Marine Stadium, which, over the years, saw Jimmy Buffett go native, The Who windmill – and Sammy Davis Jr. hug Richard Nixon.

You’ll be able to see many more photos in each issue of City & Shore PRIME – and, next month, in our new hardcover book, Looking Back II, available at https://bit.ly/3bNBix4. You’ll see bathers smiling in long dresses on Palm Beach in 1907, in one-piece swimwear in the 1950s, in two-piece styles in the 1980s, in practically nothing today. You’ll see three-masted schooners tied up on the New River in 1915 where superyachts ride now, too. You’ll see how much downtown Fort Lauderdale has changed but, somehow, the McCrory’s 5-10-25¢ sign, established 1921, still looks out on Andrews Avenue.

Riffle through the pages and you’ll also find a photograph of Alligator Joe – with what appears to be a 10-foot pole and a pistol on his hip – lording over a pit of crocodiles in Palm Beach in 1904, the year my grandfather was born.

I expect you’ll be happy it – and all the other photos here and in Looking Back II – never wound up in a Hefty bag on the way to the curb.

-mgauert@cityandshore.com

 

PHOTO: Henry Gauert, right, aboard RMS Queen Mary in 1964

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