I found this photo among thousands that my mother keeps packed in tins within shoe boxes within moving boxes. She said this sultry young woman was a co-worker at Overton’s Grocery Store in the 1940s. In South Norfolk, Virginia. She doesn’t remember her name.
But this woman, whom I’ll call “Red” even though the photo is black and white, is not the only bathing beauty among the many photos I thumbed through. There were many of my mother and her best friend, Neva, in bathing suits, hands on hips, reclining in the sand, and even one of my mother in a beauty pageant. She was Miss Ocean View, a big deal in her day. In fact, even today the Ocean View Museum wants a photo of her, the one that appeared in The Virginian-Pilot more than 60 years ago, but she refuses to give them a copy.
My mother, now 80, hovered over me as I thumbed through one photo after another with her and a James Dean look-alike named Paul and his buddy whose name she can’t remember, although she recalls him as a pest who tagged along way too often. There were also pictures of her with a sweet long-term beau named Ronnie, an enlisted Navy man, and a couple with my father whose motorcycle she climbed onto the day they met. Most were taken at Ocean View Beach.
One packed tin of photos exhausted us. I asked to take home a few, and my mother agreed. As I packed up the rest, my mother, all these years later and with a greater understanding of the world, realized that the beautiful Paul who had wanted to marry her was probably gay. And the rest of the pictures, those of her and Neva posing as Marilyn Monroe did a decade or more later? “Cheesecake,” she said.