PATERSON, NEW JERSEY 1968
I had pulled this photo from my files recently to show a friend and I looked at it again tonight and felt the impulse to write about it.
That's my brother Petey and I at our babysitter Marilyn's house in Paterson New Jersey, around 1968. In the picture are Marilyn's son Cliff, and her niece Patti and her nephews whose names I have forgotten.
It is the one surviving image of an early "photoshoot" I set up. I had brought my kodak instamatic with me and once I had arranged everyone I handed it to Marilyn so she could take the shot. I also had her photograph us dancing. When I gave the signal everyone would dance until I said "freeze!" and Marilyn would press the button.
In those days, us kids never talked about the things that separated the races. We were just having a great time. Their home in Paterson presented a great contrast to our privileged upper middle class home in the mostly white suburbs of Glen Rock. The two houses were just a few miles from each other and I remember how the landscape would change as we crossed the narrow bridge over the Passaic river in her car, the radio blasting. The smell from a nearby factory that was freely dumping chemicals into the river always made me hold my nose.
Marilyn and her sister lived in a big two family house and I always remember lots of family being present. At night Cliff, Petey and I got to sleep on the living room floor. We would play with flashlights pretending that a huge hand monster was coming to get us.
There was always a sense of people taking care of each other, of community. I always felt welcome and was never treated like an outsider. The only thing different about me was my stringy blond hair that Patti and her brothers liked to play with.
Sometimes Cliff would stay at our house in Glen Rock. I don't think it was nearly as much fun for him as Paterson was for us. Aside from Petey and our next door neighbor Ken, there was never the same kind of welcome for Cliff that I received from Marilyn and her family.
I recently read that Dr. Martin Luther King visited the Bethel AME church in Paterson where he delivered his last public speech March 27, 1968. Learning that adds deeper context to my memories. It is hard to believe at times that there has been so little change since the Civil Rights movement and that we now have a president who is driving the people of this country apart instead of bringing them together.
It pains me that I lost touch with Marilyn and her family as I moved into high school and then on to college. I think of them often and when I look at these pictures I feel the innocence and joy from a time where I did not know the concept of "other".