Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Nostalgic Look Into My Past

Imagine my surprise to discover a reference to a 1976 book, long out of print, that includes my late husband and me! In "The secret to turning two dozen bucks into half a dozen cool books" (Tempo section, June 9), Chicago Tribune reporter Patrick T. Reardon tells about spending $23.95 at last weekend's Printers Row Book Fair. It's a great place to find both the new and the old.

One of his choices caught my attention: City Families: Chicago and London, by photographer Roslyn Banish. The book features families from one London and one Chicago neighborhood, along with brief interviews. The Chicago neighborhood featured is Lincoln Park, and I got out my old copy of the book to take another look, especially at pages 166-167.

There we are: "Marlys and Julian Styne. Mrs. Styne: College English teacher. Mr. Styne: Federal marshal." We talk a bit about our family beginnings and our lives. Our confidence and optimism are remarkable as we fail to answer the author's request for three wishes. Here is our reply: "Mrs. Styne: I don't think I coud think of three things I want, except more of the good life we've had. Mr. Styne: I think we're at the point in life now where we have the rewards of our work. We don't have the things to worry about that young families have. Mrs. Styne: We feel now that we can do pretty much what we want to, within reason." Yes, I had the last word, as usual. There we are at ages 44 and 48, seemingly without a worry in the world.

Perhaps even more memorable are Banish's two photographs of us. The first shows us seated on our living room sofa (gold velvet, as I recall, although the photo is in black and white). On the coffee table in front of us are newspapers and magazines and a snack tray. I can't tell what we had been eating. The antique lamp is one I still have (actually, I had two of them then, but the china base of one of them has since shattered). The wall behind us holds four old pictures from my family and one painting I actually did myself (not a good one, I might add). The ancestral pictures hang in my condo now, although not in the living room. My painting has been relegated to a closet, where it belongs.

The second photo shows us seated on a Kawasaki motorcycle in front of the house. The little house on Cleveland Avenue looks neat and tidy: white shutters, smooth parkway grass, black wrought iron fence. Toward the end of my stay there, it didn't look that good. The house next door, not yet updated then, looks much better today. Perhaps our old house does too; I haven't passed by in a while.

Both photos show my husband's dark, bushy mustache and graying, receding hair. My hair is longer than usual, and curly. Fortunately, that was one of my thinner periods, so I look old-fashioned (now), but not bad. Our clothing is nondescript; we obviously didn't dress up for the occasion, except to add motorcycle boots and carry helmets for the second picture.

What a picture of the mid-seventies! As I recall, Lincoln Park home prices were already rising quickly (we bought our little delapidated house for $17,500, although we spent a lot more than that to renovate it), and we were happy with our relatively carefree lives.

Of course nothing lasts. We replaced that Kawasaki with a series of BMW motorcycles, and our first European motorcycle trip came later in 1976. That's the trip on which I broke a leg, so nothing's perfect. We both eventually completed our careers and retired optimistically, but Jules died in 2000, leaving me depressd for a while.

All in all, while that mid-life smugness seems exaggerated, we need surprise reminders like Reardon's article to remind us about how things were. I've changed a lot in thirty years, and while I'm no longer that optimistic (or that thin), I'm happy to be reminded of the life I've had. I'm also happy that I'm still alive and able to revisit this book. This is another reminder of the lasting power of the written word--and of photographs.

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