Looking back on old high school portraits

Published 10:12 pm Thursday, January 19, 2017


Generally, I’m very happy to have grown up in the generation into which I was born. While the suburbs were encroaching, there were still large swaths of open, rural area in the North Georgia community where I grew up. I would also have to say that either we neighborhood kids all had relatively negligent parents, or they were truly academics who embraced Darwinian theory, because we were pretty much left to fend for ourselves as we played outside.


That ‘play’ included jumping off garage roofs, pulling wheelies on mini bikes without helmets, riding double, bareback on horses, no helmets (on us, not the horse), and as we got older, pretty much going wherever we wanted, for as long as we wanted, covered by the one-size-fits-all tale known as “I’m spending the night at Cindy’s house.”


“Do you have any homework?”


“No.” (yes)


“Does her mother say it’s alright?”


“Yes.” (no, because I won’t be at Cindy’s)


“Alright, make sure you’re home before noon, tomorrow.”


“You betcha.”


No cell phones, no texting, no emails, no Google maps … no problem. It was pretty much impossible to track down your kid in those days, unless you lived on a cul de sac and kept them tethered to a rope, connected to a post in the middle. We were free-range kids and did as we pleased and I’ve often felt smugly superior comparing my adolescence to teens nowadays.


Then a friend showed me her daughter’s senior portraits.


Holy cow, it was like a modeling portfolio. This beautiful young girl (I have to describe her that way, her mom reads my column) was pictured in all sorts of wondrous locations: standing in a meadow, leaning against an old, stone bridge, sitting on hay bales. The lighting was exquisite, her hair was gilded by the sun, skin perfect, everything soft-focused.


And over five hundred bucks for the package.


I cannot even imagine having approached my father for that kind of jack. I mean, my first car cost $300 and when the engine caught on fire, I bought a second engine and had it installed for another $300. If I’d gone into the den, where my father would have been watching football or reading the paper, the conversation would have gone like this:


“Dad, everyone is having their senior portraits taken.”




“Well, I’d like to get mine done, too.”


“How much?”


“About $500.”

“I gotta better idea. Go stand in front of the mirror. See yourself? There you go, now you know what you look like and it didn’t cost a cent.”


I think what makes me particularly jealous is just how good looking all these kids are in their portraits. Because anyone of my generation knows we never had that opportunity to sit in meadows or lean against a tree in the forest, with a reflector training golden light upon us.


Oh, no, child, Aunty Pam and the dames from her generation all wore, at least in my north Georgia high school, this one-size-fits-nobody mouldering, green velvet drape thing that obliged each girl to pull down her bra straps as it was designed to give the impression of a strapless gown.

I remember it being ripe with b.o. and was later deodorized with the same stuff they spray into bowling shoes after using.


Regardless, I remember itching for several days afterwards and trying in vain to choose between six photos of myself which were equally appalling as they all looked exactly like me. There was no soft box used to even out skin tone or electric fans blowing to lift our hair like a model, and we were all seated in front of the same mottled, blue background. The whole package was about thirty bucks, and even then, that seemed quite a lot of money just to record your angst-ridden insecurity for immortality from the late 70s.

At least there is solace in that it wasn’t the late 80s. Mouldering green velvet drapes and feathery Farrah Fawcett hair was one thing. Giant, lacquered bangs and over permed hair that resembled a graduating class of Cocker Spaniels was quite another. Oh, well, if you can’t laugh at yourself, your kids certainly will.