The Odd and the Ugly

As someone who needs organization, I spend an inordinate amount of free time collecting family photos, labeling and cataloguing them. I’m fortunate that I have a wide network that can send me a photo of a painting in a hall, or I can track down distant uncles, aunts, and cousins on the Library of Congress website. When I post about someone in the family, I try to find the flattering image. But there is a collection of the weird that I keep hidden. Like Diane Arbus images, these photographs seem to be of marginalized subjects.

There are odd out of place outfits, such as Hallie Erminie Rives Wheeler in full kimono. I find the painting of Constance and Maud Rives to be quite odd. Whose idea was it to dress them as Little Bo Peep? I have a macabre image of William Fontaine Maury in open casket. Why did my grandmother save this? It’s very “The Others.” What's with the cow? Was this the last prized possession after the Civil War? There is a strange photo of my mother and aunt with the poodle. Why did nobody say, “Mary Kay, you look like Sybil.” Most disturbing, though, and my favorite is an image of my sister, brother, and me in bizarre masks. What I want to know is where is that clown mask now? It’s the scariest mask known to man. I’d like to use it when I drive to meet with clients.


Heather Adams 1984

My niece, Izabelle, is 11, and like most proud uncles, I think she’s remarkably beautiful. When I saw her last, I, of course, gave her many compliments. But like many young girls today, she didn’t seem to want to wear the kinds of clothes I thought would look nice. She has long, beautiful hair, but I’ve always believed that young girls should have a nice Grace Kelly bob. I told my Kristin, my sister-in-law and Ian, my brother, and they both looked at me like I was crazy. “I don’t see what’s wrong with a nice bob,” I told them, I’d be happy to buy her a good kilt, sweaters and faux pearls (it’s unseemly to let 11 year old girls wear real pearls to school). Once again, the look like I’m crazy. “She’ll get beat up,” they told me.

I tried to convince Izabelle how nice this would look and showed her photos of my sister, Heather, when she was in high school in the 80s. Heather had a perfect bob and good classic style and it worked for her. I even found Belinda Carlisle’s video for Mad About You and pointed out that she was very cool and had a nice bob. Now, I’m not allowed to take Izabelle shopping, and when I suggested I buy her a gift certificate to Brooks Brothers, I was nudged toward iTunes. But I’m on the lookout for a nice madras headband. I can sneak that to her.

Heather Adams, 1985

My father was a pinko hippie. And I liked that.

Sherman Adams, high school, before the 60s, 1959

My dad was a character. I was talking to my brother, Ian, yesterday, and he said, “I think Dad was really crazy or super cool.” He had found a photo of my dad taken the year before he died. Admittedly, he was odd looking by then. He had a big shock of white hair like Dr. Emmett Brown in Back to the Future and a modified Fu Man Chu beard. And my dad was incredibly smart. He was a program designer back in the 1960s and 70s, and one of those people that talked about a Googolplex, a numeral with 1 and 100 zeros following. Granted his conversations tended toward the binary, “Yes,” and “No.” I liked the fact that my dad was counterculture from 1960 to the day he died.

Non-student narc and teachers pet, c.1969

These pages from an underground magazine circa 1969 or 1970 were thumbtacked to my dad's bedroom wall for most of my life. The “Of the Faith Teachers Pets” page describes the alleged spying on liberal faculty and students at University of Washington, Brigham Young University, and Fairleigh Dickinson University by individuals posing as R.O.T.C. cadets, and in the case of Linda Hobbie, as an undergraduate. The caption under Ms. Hobbie’s image reads, “Non-student Narc.” The addition of Kaiser Wilhelm is a delicate touch.

Wanted, c.1969

The “Wanted” page describes an episode when the secret service investigated Chuck Popke, pictured above. Popke had written, “Johnson’s war in Vietnam makes America puke,” on the back of an envelope that was intercepted by the secret service. The inset image is President Lyndon Johnson showing a surgical scar. The secret service agent defended the government’s action against Popke, “If enough people puked on the President, it would kill him.”