John must have been about eight years old when he came across the special offer in a seed catalog: hey kids, add a penny of your own money to your parents' seed order, and you'll get a super fantastic packet of seeds just for you to plant.
If I remember correctly, we taped the penny to the order form, and I got my seeds and he got his. Both our gardens did pretty well that summer, thanks to the good advice of our neighbor on Fifth Avenue in Tuscaloosa, Mr. Crawford. John's turnip, shown here, must have been exactly the super fantastic return he'd been hoping for on his investment–and yup, he's still a gardener today, thirty years later.
At harvest time, he posed for a Polaroid snapshot in the kitchen with his brothers, Joe and Ted. Joe appears to be checking out a previously shot Polaroid, probably watching the colors emerge magically from the paper. Ted appears to be annoyed. Jealous maybe, of his brother's turnip?
Snow fell on Alabama the other day, and bitter cold settled in. Same thing happened there back in about 1989, when Forest Lake in Tuscaloosa froze up thick enough to run around and slide on, and our three eldest posed for a picture on the ice.
From the bottom: Ted, John, Joe. Note the complete absence of gloves or mittens, and the general inadequacy of winter apparel. In his hat and jacket, Ted appeared to have a chance of staying warm, but the other two just had to tough it out. There is no evidence in this picture of the socks-on-the-hands and/or plastic-bags-in-the-shoes that we recall improvising for wintry moments in Alabama; nonetheless, they all somehow survived.
At the University of Alabama this semester, Joe is taking a ceramics class, which meets, appropriately enough, in the old Bureau of Mines building.
"Earn your A," he writes.
Shown here in a curled-up polaroid snapshot from a nightstand drawer, eating shrimp on a kitchen table covered with newspaper, probably in 1985 or 1986, back when they were shrimpy little kids and pretty good friends, are Joe Stein and Stephanie Jacobs.
Stephanie and Joe went to preschool together and then to University Place Elementary, and for many years they went to the same after-school program and the same Sunday school.
Based on this picture, we might guess that Stephanie liked milk with her shrimp, or else liked milk but not shrimp, or perhaps liked neither but had been told to drink her milk.
Joe appears to be a serious shrimp-peeler, despite wearing an obviously unserious sort of hat.
Both Stephanie and Joe have gone back to school in recent years at the University of Alabama, Stephanie for a library science master's in book arts and Joe for a music degree in piano performance.
A good way to wind down a year is to spend an afternoon playing ball with my dad and his neighbors in the activity room of his Alzheimer's care facility in Kensington, Maryland. Some of the people there, definitely including my 88-year-old father, can still throw and catch and dribble and fake and enjoy (almost) every minute of the game.
My dad has been a ballplayer all his life, and in my mind's eye he'll always be the pitcher for the Army Times softball team in the D.C. summer league.
Meanwhile, that's my son Joe on the piano, picking up the tempo of the afternoon. Joe's always been a piano player and I expect he always will be. For the ballgame, he played everything from Oh Susanna to How Great Thou Art to Bach to Mozart to Scott Joplin.
As for the significance of the passing year and what lies beyond the horizon in 2013: I got nothing.
It was springtime, and we were young. I'm thinking it was 1984 in Decatur, Georgia, and Joe was about eighteen months old, Ted about three and a half, and I was a spring chicken myself.
In August 2004, during a family gathering on Peaks Island, Maine, to celebrate my father's eightieth birthday, some of the grandchildren spent many hours doing stuff with the rocks on the beach. Here we see Ted, Hank, Allen, Joe, and their cousin Nick.
If I remember correctly, shortly after this picture was taken, something catastrophic happened to the structure. The catastrophe was great fun for some of the boys, but not so much fun for Hank, who felt compelled to devote more hours to "fixing" it.
All five Stein boys touched down in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a few days ago and claimed the beachhead for the Crimson Tide. That's not very hard to do in Tuscaloosa.
The occasion was the premier social event of the year, on New Year's Day, the wedding of Neely Sims and Damon Ray.