Boys Will Be Boys

My Dad died several years ago; Mom followed him to the grave early last year. In all honesty, I never fully appreciated how much she enjoyed taking pictures until I waded into her collection of albums, which must have numbered close to one hundred.

One of my favorite images features my maternal grandparents, two aunts, several of my cousins, and a young, unsmiling version of my mother posing in front of our yellow house in Pleasant Hill. Mom looks haggard. And there, at the very front, is the source of her weariness: me. I must be all of five years old and I’m squirming so much despite her firm grip on my shoulder that my face blurs.

I couldn’t help thinking about that image when I came across the postcard on the left in the Museum’s photograph collection. Looking at these six young men (yes, all are boys) gave me instant appreciation of my mother’s trials. Everything I see in this postcard tells me that these boys are up to no good. I can state with absolute certainty that chaos broke loose the moment the photographer turned his back. Boys will be boys.

Unlike many other postcards in our collection, the backside of this one tells its own story. The year is 1905, and the six young men—each five years old—are attending kindergarten. A photographer walks by in the midst of a “cowboy” game and asks them to pose. For reasons that escape me—perhaps a teacher nearby threatens them—they agree, lining up in front of the steps of 216 West Oak Street, in Stockton. We even know the boys’ names. Fortunately, one of them keeps a copy and passes it on to his descendants, who eventually give it to the Museum.

Of all the postcards I’ve seen so far at the Museum, this is my favorite. I’m drawn to it partly because I can identify with these six young urchins. The clothing they wore may differ from mine at that age, but the postcard reminds me that the unstoppable energy packaged as a five-year-old boy will never change. It informs me about one small dimension of my humanity that I share with ancestors from long ago.

And now that I’m grown up with a family of my own, it also reminds me of the challenges that my weary young mother faced trying to harness the energy of a five-year-old boy.

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