Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Some old pictures I didn't take: Doing well

MOST OF THE PHOTOS I'VE INHERITED AREN'T JUST A DOCUMENT OF MY FAMILY but of postwar prosperity - a world I only barely remember. That "first three seasons of Mad Men" universe was ending by the time I arrived among these people, and by the time my memories come into focus it's all burnt orange and polyester and Watergate and stagflation.

I love how self-assured this young boy looks, leaning on the back of what I was able to identify after about ten minutes of research as a 1949 Ford V8 Club Coupe. It's a pose he might have learned from the movies, or pictures in magazines. He only needs to put a cigarette between the fingers of his hand to make the Glenn Ford or Robert Mitchum impersonation complete.

Maybe it's the private school blazer that's given him such confidence. You certainly can't fault the sharp crease in his flannels. The only problem was that I didn't recognize him at all.

I found this in the same envelope, obviously taken on the same day and, after a Google Street View search, identified it as the sidewalk, looking east, in front of 80 Grandville, the home where my mother lived with my grandfather during the Depression and the War and, for seven years after that, with my father and my brother, Marty. The boy's parents, probably, but who are they?

I showed the shots to my brother and he guessed that they were the Coxes, our next-door neighbours on Grandville. They certainly look prosperous, her in her suit and him in his well-tailored jacket and trousers, both of them proof that, style-wise, the '30s lasted pretty much all through the '40s thanks to wartime shortages and austerity and the rationing of frivolity for the duration.

A month or so later I found this in another envelope - Marty with the same boy, the latter looking a lot less suave with his tie askew, posing stiffly in front of the Ford with my brother and his pants with their dusty knees. It's definitely Grandville, and most of the houses are still there today, covered in stucco and siding, renovated and expanded. My brother says he's about five here, which dates the shots from 1950, maybe '51.

The car's the star of these photos, though. It looks minty new, and the Coxes were justified in showing it off to their neighbours. The '49 coupe and sedan were the first truly postwar cars Ford brought out, bulbous wheel arches giving way to a more streamlined design with the wheels absorbed into the smooth-sided body behind the cyclopean chrome grille.

It was the final triumph of Moderne on mass-market auto design before it went space age, sprouting fins and rocket-nosed tail lights and slashes of chrome trim. Along with the crest on the boy's school blazer, it shows that the Coxes were doing well, and my brother recalls that they moved away not long after this - out west, in his memory, to where the future apparently could be found. We'd move east in a year, to a new house just a few blocks away from Grandville on Gray Avenue, where I'd grow up.

So this would be the last glimpse of the Coxes and their son, wherever he might be now. The car, I'm sure, is long gone, rusted and crushed, but once it sat shiny and new on the still-dirt surface of Grandville Avenue, next to the new paved sidewalks, to be shown off and admired while its owners stood next to it, wearing their best.


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