One of the things I notice now, looking at this fifty-year old photograph with the eyes of someone who considers himself to be a decent amateur photographer, with a respectable amount of knowledge about cameras and lenses and how they work, is how close to me the vantage point of this picture appears to be. How did my mother--or whoever took this picture, in the unlikely event it wasn't her--get that close with a fixed-focus Kodak Instamatic camera? Probably she really was just right there with the camera in my face. (It's also possible that this image is a cropped version of a wider original; I can't remember what the actual print looks like right now.)
Whatever the case, this picture certainly does put you right there with me and my birthday cake at this, my fifth birthday party, probably a Saturday afternoon in April, 1972. (I doubt the party was actually on my birthday, though the actual date has probably been lost to history.)
But I do remember this party. It was in the basement of our house in Clarkston, and all my cousins and neighborhood friends and relatives--at least all the ones who didn't have to work, or have some other convenient excuse for getting out of a little boy's birthday party--were there.
What I think I remember--though I admit I may just remember having been told this story over and over so many times that it has the feeling of a genuine memory--is that when I was about to blow out the candles on my cake, my cousin Lorri leaned in and blew them out for me. It was that moment that this picture captures.
What I also think I remember--and this I'm pretty sure is a genuine memory and not an implated one, except that it might have been from the party the year before this one--is that the cake was decorated with a plastic horse and cowboy. Sometime after this party, later the same day or the next day, perhaps, I took them out to play with in the neighborhood, and I left them on the curb a street or two away when Mom called me home for supper. I went out to play with them some more, later that day or maybe the next day, I'm not sure, and I was incredulous that they weren't still there on the curb where I'd left them. Someone stole my horse and cowboy from me! It had genuinely not even occurred to me that someone would do such a thing. But someone did. I think that was the very beginning of my loss of innocence.
One other thing I want to point out in this picture: look at the bottle on the left side of the frame. Pepsi. I have another picture, of another part of the house (the kitchen), at another time (I don't know exactly when), in which a Pepsi bottle is clearly visible. Where we a Pepsi family? Even living in (or near) Atlanta, the birthplace of Coca-Cola? Or maybe there just wasn't a Coke-vs.-Pepsi rivalry back then, and people just bought whatever was most convenient or cheapest. Whatever the explanation, I'm okay with it. To be honest, I slightly prefer Pepsi over Coke; I rather like thinking this bias goes back to when I was just a little kid.