At six

Lately I’ve been drawn to photos of my parents and me that were taken at the same ages. In this post I look at us at six.

Dad, Mom, and me at 6 years old

Dad, Mom, and me at six

Dad (left) in 1924

This is from Dad’s class photo from the first grade. His family lives in poverty in the oilfields of Fellows, California.

He already knows he’s gay, though he doesn’t yet have a word for it. But he notices anti-gay slurs coming from some members of his conservative Baptist community.

Dad’s erect shoulders seem to exude confidence. And although he’s only six, he’s already looking like the dapper dresser I grew up with. His smile is sweet but reveals something, maybe self-consciousness, maybe sadness.

Mom (center) in 1930

Mom lives with her extended family in a converted train station in Rockaway Beach (now Pacifica), California. The Great Depression is in its second year.

Mom’s father left the family three years prior, his shiny brown shoes her only memory of him. Her single mother works six days a week at the City of Paris department store in San Francisco.

My mother loved animals, one accompanying her in most of her childhood photos. It might be a baby owl she’s holding in this photo.

Though she says she was envious of the other girls at school who had fathers, she looks content and happy here. She grew up with a lot of love (and animals!).

Me (right) in 1957

I was born during the prosperous (for some) post-WWII Baby Boom. Here I am by our swimming pool in San Carlos, a small city on the San Francisco Peninsula.

Dad is a bookkeeper for a contractor in the booming region that in 15 years will be called Silicon Valley. My parents take the four of us kids to Disneyland and Yosemite in the summer. We eat nourishing food. We’re lavished with gifts at Christmas.

The year this photo was taken is the year my mother discovers that my father is gay. She considers taking her life. My first bout of night terrors occurs.

I’m smiling in the photo and my shoulders look relaxed, but my head leans to one side. I think I look a little insecure, though I may be reading too much into the photo. Today I know the stress my parents were under at the time it was taken.

My parents both lived through the Great Depression. My mother always tried to make the best of things. My closeted father was resilient and lived to be 90, though he suffered from shame and depression along the way.

I grew up with an abundance of love from two parents during a booming time. But I was riddled with anxiety from a young age, due, I believe, to the mismatched coupling of my parents and the closeting of my father’s true nature.

Seldom does this anxiety express itself in me today. I know its source now. I know of the trials my parents faced when they got married in the homophobic 1940s. It makes sense now.

When I look at our photos, I see two dear children who would survive the turbulence of the anti-gay 20th century to live long lives together, and their daughter who, more than five decades later, would tell their unique love story.

Our love story.

Read more in Laura Hall’s My Dad’s Closet: A daughter’s memoir, coming eventually to a bookstore near you. Laura and her husband live in San Francisco.

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