Carnett: Jim's life captured in a photo book

For my birthday this year my daughter Jenn gave me one of those photo books you create online.

I'm guessing she thought me old enough to qualify for a "This Is Your Life" memory album.

I was surprised by how moved I was when I opened the book for the first time. Many photos came from old family archives originally managed by my grandmother and, later, my mom.

In recent decades, Jenn has assumed custodianship of the treasured collection.

She titled the coffee table picture book "My Family History." Its cover features a colorized portrait of my mom and dad taken during the first year of their marriage, in 1944. Dad is wearing his U.S. Army Air Corps class A uniform, and Mom dons a cute maternity blouse that hides a modest baby bump — me. She's 20, he's 22.

On the title page is a large portrait of Mom and Dad taken in their Balboa Island apartment with grumpy 6-month-old Jimmy sitting on Mom's lap. Dad's in uniform again, and Mom is a glowing, freckle-faced miss with curly locks. At that point, we'd lived through VE Day and were now anticipating VJ Day.

Jimmy, decked out in a knitted frock and booties, is clearly unhappy. He exhibits clinched fists and a frown.

Page three reveals my great grandparents, Bert and Fanny Ragsdale, standing in front of their clapboard Coffeyville, Kan., home in the 1930s, looking like Grant Wood's "American Gothic." Bert is bald. Fanny is granite-faced and severe.

Then there's a photo of my grandfather, Bill Thomlinson, with his David Niven mustache and pompadour, standing next to a slick black sedan on Santa Monica Boulevard, circa 1939. A couple of pages later is a photo of Mom on her 16th birthday, in 1940, standing next to my sun-bronzed grandfather on the Santa Barbara pier.

Another picture reveals my pretty grandmother, a young widow in 1945, hair nicely quaffed with earrings and full makeup, holding a spatula and can of Crisco at the stove in her Balboa Island kitchen. Go figure?

There's Dad in another snap, a buff 22-year-old in trunks and T-shirt, off-duty from Santa Ana Army Air Base and sitting astride a bicycle on Balboa Island in the summer of '44.

Check my tan and svelte Mom posing in mid-war and mid-pirouette in front of an umbrella on a Balboa Island beach. And there she is a couple of years later with me — 18 months or so — sitting atop an Island seawall, dressed in shorts and sandals.

There's brother Billy and me — at ages 2 and 4, respectively — posing with Mom and our grandmother on our Balboa Island patio. There's Dad, a shirt-sleeved civilian in '46, pushing me on a tricycle.

How about Easter Sunday 1954 in the backyard of our new Costa Mesa home? Billy and I — 7 and 9, respectively — are bedecked in church clothes and pre-summer butch haircuts. With us are our parents, grandmother and 3-year-old sister, Judi.

What about Bill and me — at ages 8 and 10 and wearing our two-toned Ricky Ricardo jackets — with Judi at Disneyland? It's 1955, the Magic Kingdom's first year. Then there's the three of us stair-stepped on our Costa Mesa front porch that same year.

Flip forward a few pages. Birthdays, graduation gowns and military uniforms.


Along come my kids: Jimmy, Jenn, Jade and Melissa. Tons of holiday shots and photos of family get-togethers, vacations and commencements. My two siblings, my wife, Hedy, and I advance with dignity into middle age.

Along come more weddings and eight grandchildren: Ethan, Emma, Ellarie, Eva, Saleh, Bella, Lexi and Judah.

What a family!

Grandma leaves us, and so too my son, Jimmy, and my Dad.

Retirement and lots of shots of Jim with his maturing kids and growing grandkids. The last page is a collage spanning seven decades, with the gracious observation "You are loved by so many!"

Thanks, Jenn, for the perfect birthday gift!

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.

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