A Sad Surprise in a Moving Box

Old photos bring back old memories and feelings.

Unpacking after a move is a funny thing. If you’ve organized your things properly and packed them into labeled boxes, you logically unpack things you need most first. And that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing since I moved from Arizona in May 2013 and started moving into my new home in early 2015. The kitchen and bathroom and bedroom items were first to be unpacked: pots and pans and utensils, toiletries and bathroom appliances and medicine cabinet contents, clothes and shoes and accessories. Then, as furniture locations were finalized and most of the finish work was done, I reached for boxes containing the extras: silk plants and baskets for atop my kitchen cabinets, collectibles to be arranged in new wall mounted displays, books for my library shelves, framed photographs for the walls. Each item that’s unpacked and put into its place makes my home more like my home.

Lexox Autumn
I love Lenox’s Autumn pattern, which was originally released back in 1918, but only used my set, which was a gift from my mother, three times. Make me an offer. I have service for 9 plus salad bowls and serving plates.

These days, there are still about a dozen packed boxes in my massive garage. Some will likely never be unpacked. Do I really need a set of Lenox china for up to nine dinner guests? Or real silver silverware? Why in the world did I collect all those pin-on buttons at computer shows in the 1990s and early 2000s? My matchbook collection was fun to add to after a dinner out, but who gives away matchbooks these days? And after writing more than 80 books and hundreds of articles, do I really need to keep the box of published clips I began accumulating in the late 1980s?

I’ve been going through the boxes — at least peeking inside them — in an effort to take inventory on what still needs to be unpacked and what can probably be disposed of. I’ve been shifting boxes to the shelves I built in my garage for long-term storage, separating them into three categories: store, sell, and unpack.

And that’s how I came upon the box labeled “Wall Art / Family Photos.” It had been at the bottom of a pile, slightly crushed. I peeked inside. Lots of frames, all carefully packed in bubble wrap. This needed to get unpacked. So later, when I took a break, I brought it upstairs to tend to when I had a chance.

That chance was yesterday evening. I put the box on my dining table and started pulling out the wrapped items, revealing them one after another.

First were two old framed still life prints of fruit. They aren’t very attractive, but they do have sentimental value. They’ve hung in every kitchen in every home I’ve lived in as an adult. It was good to see them. I have just the place for them in my new kitchen.

Then the framed puppy photo of my dog, Spot, who I’d gotten as a birthday present from my future wasband when we lived in our first house together in New Jersey. And a baby picture of me. And a group photo of me with my sister and brother, taken at a Sears photo studio about 20 years ago. And a photo of me standing by my first helicopter.

And then I got to the framed photo of my grandmother and her sister when they were kids. The photo was retouched, slightly enlarged, matted, and framed. It shows the two girls in sepia, sitting on the roof of their apartment building in the Bronx. My aunt Fanny is holding a small dog. I’d found the picture somewhere and had the touch-up work done, then made a framed print for my grandmother for Christmas one year. At the same time, I’d made one for myself.

Old Photo
The photo of my late father-in-law was tucked into the frame of the photo of my grandmother and her sister. I honestly don’t remember packing it, but I’m glad I did.

But it was not that photo that prompted this blog post. It was the more modern portrait of a man stuck into the side of the frame: my late father-in-law, Charlie.

I don’t remember packing the photo, but I must have. I always liked Charlie, who died suddenly and very unexpectedly of a massive heart attack only a year after he retired. He was fun and had a good sense of humor. Although he teased his wife mercilessly — which I’ve admitted elsewhere bothered me a lot — he took good care of her and stuck with her through thick and thin. She could not have been an easy person to live with and I suspect the teasing was one of the ways he dealt with it. But he was a man who understood what marriage was all about, what those vows really meant.

Unlike his son.

Early on in my divorce, when I was living alone my Wickenburg home, I put a photo of Charlie and his wife on my front door with a post-it note attached. The post-it note obscured Julia’s face, pointed to Charlie, and said something like “He would be ashamed of you.” My future wasband eventually saw the photo when he came to the house and took it away with him. I hope he got the message, but I doubt it.

But I know Charlie would have been ashamed of him. And I’m glad he was spared the pain our divorce likely would have caused him. I wish my family could have been spared the same pain.

Seeing his photo tucked into that frame reminded me of all this. It made me sad. Sad that he left so soon after his retirement, just at the point where he likely expected to relax and spend time with his family and friends. Sad that he was gone. Sad about all the things he’d missed.

And sad that his son couldn’t have been more like he was.

I’ve discarded or hidden away most of the reminders of the 29 years I spent with the man who betrayed my trust and broke my heart. But this is one I won’t put away. I’ll get a frame for Charlie’s photo and put it with the others on the table behind my sofa. Charlie is a man worth remembering.

More Maria 1.0 Photos

A few more very old photos.

Yesterday, I blogged a few things about Girl Scouts, which I was part of when I was a kid. I still have my Girl Scout sash with all of its badges somewhere. I went looking for it yesterday morning, hoping to get a photo of it for the blog post. I couldn’t find it. But I did find a bunch of very old photographs from my teens and college days. I thought I’d share them here.

At Disneyworld

The date on the back of this photo says 1980, but I’m pretty sure it was older than that. That could account for the discoloration. I commonly put off developing film for a very long time. I’m thinking this was from around 1977 or so. My mom had remarried (or was about to?) and we went on a family vacation to Disneyworld in Florida. It was remarkable for two reasons:

  • We stayed at the hotel inside the park. The one the monorail goes through. It was the first time I’d ever stayed in a real hotel.
  • My stepdad bought us passes that gave us unlimited access to all the rides. Back in those days, you had to buy tickets for each ride you wanted to go on. (Ever hear of an E-ticket Ride?) We had access to everything. It was a huge deal.

We had the royal treatment throughout our visit, including dinner at Cinderella’s Castle. That’s where this photo was taken. It shows my sister, brother, and me. When I texted this photo to my brother, he not only confirmed it was when we had dinner in the Castle, but he remembered that he had prime rib. When I asked him how he could possibly remember that, he replied:

Because the meal came with a red candied slice of apple as a garnish. At the time it freaked me out since I never saw something like that before so I have not forgotten it.


At Disneyworld
(L-R) Laura, Norbert, and Maria Langer at Cinderella’s Castle, Disneyworld, circa 1977.

Prom Photo

Prom Picture
Maria Langer and Paul Soehren, prom photo, 1978.

I went to two proms in the same year in high school. One was my senior prom, which was in the winter so photos could make it into the yearbook. The other was my junior prom, which was in the spring. And yes, I was a junior and a senior in the same year — which explains how I managed to graduate high school at age 16.

This is from one of those proms, back in 1978. I was dating the guy across the street, Paul. We were together for quite a while. Unfortunately, he was slightly younger than me and I graduated early so he was two years behind me in school. When I went away to college — well, let’s just say that my outlook on life and relationships changed. But he was a good guy and I suspect he made someone a very good husband. I seem to recall that he became a firefighter. I’ve lost touch with him but that’s okay.

We made a nice looking couple, no?


Here’s a shot of my brother and me sitting on my aunt and uncle’s back deck. The other photos in this group show a lot of different family members, including my grandmother, in a wheel chair. I assume it was somebody’s birthday or something, but can’t figure out who. It was obviously in the summer and I don’t know anyone other than me with a summer birthday.

I figure this was around 1980, just based on my hairstyle and the fact that I’m not wearing glasses. I started wearing contacts when I went to college. I remember that top. My brother was about 10 or 11 here.

I didn’t crop this, although I certainly could have. I wanted to save it the way it was shot. It was likely taken by my mother, who couldn’t properly frame a photo if her life depended on it. I have a lot of photos that are framed like this.

Maria and Norb
Maria and Norbert Langer, New Jersey, circa 1980.


Laura Langer
Laura Langer, circa 1980.

Taken at the same event as the one above, here’s my sister. She’s changed quite a bit since Disneyworld, no?

What amazes me about these last two pictures is how much eye makeup we’re both wearing. Sheesh.

And I can bet you anything that my mother did not take this photo.

College Days

Photographer Maria
A candid shot of me taking a candid photo of someone else on campus. September 18, 1981. Ah, to be that young (and thin) again!

In college, I was a member of the yearbook staff as a photographer and it was a blast. I loved doing candid shots. I’d put a long lens on my Olympus OM-10 camera (hey, you have to start somewhere) and shoot images of people lounging on the grass in the Quad or snacking in a cafeteria or studying in the library.

My friend Jeff Noreman, who was the yearbook editor one year (or more?) took this photo of me while I was likely taking a candid photo of someone else. The only reason I know it was Jeff is that his initials and the actual date of the photo are on back. So I can tell you that this was shot on September 18, 1981. I was a senior at Hofstra University and just 20 years old.

Yearbook Staff
The Nexus staff, circa 1981.

I also found a group photo of the yearbook staff. I suspect Jeff took the photo since he isn’t in the shot, but if he did he must not have been trying very hard — it looks as if my mother framed it for him. The other photo i have of this group is the same pose but horizontal and also cut off. Maybe the camera was on a tripod with a self-timer?

I’m thinking this was shot on a trip to Great Adventure, an amusement park in New Jersey. I have other shots from the same place.

I can name some, but not all, of the people in this shot. Can you see me? I’m in the back on the far right, standing next to a tree. I look very butch in this shot! It probably dates around 1981.

College Graduation

I found two good shots from graduation.

First, you need to understand that I was the first person in my family to go to (and graduate from) college. It was a huge deal. So when I graduated, my entire family came to see the ceremony. That’s what the group photo is all about.

Group Graduation Photo
(L-R) Barbara Langer (my stepmother), Kristine Langer (my half sister), Laura Langer (my sister), Norbert Langer Sr (my father), me, Norbert Langer Jr. (my brother), Madelyn Odendahl (my mother), and Thomas Odendahl (my stepfather).

Graduation Photo
Here’s my college graduation photo. May 1982. I was 20 years old.

Of course, being friends with a lot of photographers, it was easy to get a good photo of me in my cap and gown. This one was taken by my friend Stuart Litel, another yearbook photographer. The only reason I know that is because his sticker is on the back of the photo.

Double Exposure

I’ve shared this next one before but thought I’d share it again because it’s so cool. It’s a double exposure self portrait that I created entirely in my camera on film. In other words, if I could find the negative, it would look just like this.

This is a relatively big deal. This is before the days of Photoshop when whipping up something like this would take a few minutes in front of a computer. The trick, as I recall, was getting my camera to let me take a second shot on top of the first one. I had to mask each side of the image for each shot. If you look closely, you can see a slight blurring on the buildings in the middle; I probably moved the camera a tiny bit when I prepared for the second shot.

The dress is actually a wrap-around long skirt that wore with a belt as a sleeveless dress. I made it myself. I still own it.

Double Exposure
Double the pleasure, double the fun?

If I find any more good Maria 1.0 photos, I’ll be sure to share them here. It’s a nice being able to look back into my distant past and remember the good old days. You can see a few more old photos here.

My Flying M Nightshirt

A bittersweet story.

It’s true: I have a nightshirt with a Flying M logo on it. But there’s a story behind it and I thought I’d take a moment to tell it.

It all started back when I made a visit to my family back in New Jersey. It had to be in the early 2000s, but certainly after I got my first helicopter, an R22. This was back in the days when my mother’s brother’s family was still on good terms with all of us. It may have been when my grandmother was still alive or not long after her death in 2001 or 2002. (I don’t remember death dates; I see no reason to.)

My Uncle Frankie and Aunt Julie lived in Bergenfield, NJ in a typical suburban home on a narrow street. My uncle, who had been in the army during the Korean War, based in Alaska, had worked in a print shop before getting certified as a 100% disabled vet due to a back injury he’d suffered while in the Army. His wife was a typical old-school Italian homemaker. In fact, their household was very Italian in the New York kind of way, despite the fact their families had been in America since at least the 1920s.

They had two kids, Ernest (named after my grandfather) and Madelyn (named after my mother), who were a little younger than me and my sister. Ernest had been in the Marines right out of high school, married someone he’d met when he was in boot camp, had two sons, got divorced, left in the middle of his second tour of duty, and promptly got into serious trouble with the law. Madelyn married and had two daughters.

My Aunt Julie and her daughter Madelyn never really liked me or my sister. Simply said, our grandmother favored us over my aunt’s kids and she did a pretty poor job hiding it. I’m sure everyone has family dynamics like this and they always cause jealousies. My aunt and cousin were jealous of us and there was nothing we could do to head it off. They manifested their jealousies by talking down to us, criticizing us, and ridiculing us whenever they could. We dealt with it. They were family and although we didn’t like it much, we let it slide like water off a duck’s back.

We — I think I can speak for my sister, too — really loved our uncle, who was loud and outrageous and a lot of fun. I remember him staging a mock fight with my cousin Ernest on a visit I made with my first boyfriend back when I was about 18. Ernest had gone down into the basement and my uncle was yelling at him from the door in the kitchen at the top of the stairs. Then he pulled out a gun and fired a round down the stairs. It really freaked out my boyfriend, but the rest of us just laughed and laughed. The gun was filled with blanks.

But because of the friction from my aunt — which got worse and worse as time went on — I didn’t visit often.

We did visit one day in 2001 or 2002 and sat around the kitchen table for a nice Italian meal. My aunt was a good cook, although in later years she was a bit heavy on the spices. (The Italian word agita comes to mind.) She made a great eggplant parmesan, which might be one of the reasons it’s my favorite Italian dish. Making a good Italian eggplant parmesan is a lot of work, but if you want to taste one that’s just like my aunt’s (or mine), try Michael Angelo’s in the supermarket freezer section. I’ve tried a lot of eggplant and this is, by far, the best.)

Flying M LogoThe Flying M logo includes both of my initials. Cool, no?

I was likely wearing one of the Flying M logo shirts I’d had made. The logo was designed by Gary-Paul Prince, based on a idea my wasband had come up with that incorporated my first initial in the design of a helicopter. Gary-Paul had managed to get both initials in. Back in those days, I was near the height of my writing career and had a lot of money to burn so I’d had the logo embroidered on a bunch of henley t-shirts, which I really liked to wear. My uncle liked the shirt and asked me for one.

Now at the time, my uncle probably weighed in at 350 pounds — at least. I obviously didn’t have a shirt at home that would fit him. So I told him I’d have one made and send it to him.

I got back to Arizona (where I lived at the time) and had another batch of shirts made. I made sure the embroidery people included one sized 3XL, which I was pretty sure would fit my uncle. After a week or two, I picked up the shirts, which came in a plastic shopping bag. I likely set it down near the door to my home and it likely sat there for a few weeks — I’m terrible about putting things away.

And then I forgot about them. For years.

You see, back then I had a cleaning lady who came every two weeks. She had apparently seen the bag near the door and decided it was better off about six feet north, on the other side of the door to the garage. She’d moved the bag into the garage where it was quickly hidden under other things that wound up in the garage. Out of sight, out of mind. I completely forgot about the shirts.

Time went on. My uncle died. I went to his funeral. It was the last time I saw my aunt and cousins. My aunt died a year or two later but I didn’t go to her funeral. I don’t think she would have wanted to see me anyway. I think my sister has been in touch with Ernest, but I haven’t communicated with either of my cousins since my aunt died.

Flying M Nightshirt
My Flying M nightshirt, now starting to show its age.

One day I was looking through a pile of stuff in the garage and came across a grocery bag with its handles tied tightly around something soft. I opened it up and found the shirts — including the gigantic heather gray one I’d had made for my uncle. I knew immediately what had happened.

I don’t throw away anything that has a use. Since I didn’t know any 3XL sized people, I decided to put the shirt into use as a nightshirt. It was comfortable and soft and very loose fitting.

And it’s still in my nightshirt rotation to this day.

The fabric is thinning and it isn’t quite as soft after so many trips through the laundry. The embroidered logo is puckered and there are tiny holes starting to form here and there in the cotton t-shirt fabric. I suspect that one of these days, I’ll have to throw it away.

But until then, it’s a reminder of my Uncle Frankie and some crazy good old days with family in New Jersey.