Oliver: Let’s throw back that pic from the past

Photographs are so much more than pixels appearing on screens or printed on paper.

Some say they are worth a thousand words. (At least my photographer friends always say that to tweak this word girl.)

They are a snapshot in time, a “moment” frozen forever.

In their frames can be powerful reminders of things long forgotten.

They also can pack a powerful emotional punch from the past. Or at least one such photo did for me recently.

Those who use social media might have heard of the phenomenon of Throwback Thursdays.

The idea is to post old photographs to share memories with friends or to get a laugh or two at one’s own expense.

Previously, friends from Northwestern University have dug out and posted old photos from my sorority days at Alpha Gamma Delta and from Kappa Sigma fraternity formals I attended.

Other than the general embarrassment at the styles of the late 1980s – padded shoulders and big hair – rarely is there much at which to wince. These were happy times, and the reminiscences are sweet.

Pretty dresses, fancy updos and the occasional overly busy Bill Cosby sweater. What’s not to like?

However, the most recent photo has proved a little more tricky.

Most of us have something in our past from which we run, a part of ourselves that perhaps we’d like to leave in the rearview mirror.

For me, it’s junior high.

So this past Throwback Thursday caught me by surprise.

The photo that was posted for all the world to see was taken at Parkland School in McHenry. Or more specifically, up against one of its outside walls. That brick is an unmistakable backdrop.

My friend Leigh and I are posing for a portrait taken in the early 1980s. 

“Awkward” is the best way to describe everything about the photo. We are both 11 or 12, at that age of transition from childhood to adolescence.

But in that photograph is more than just the horror of revisiting my too-long bangs, oversized glasses and questionable fashion choices of a flannel shirt and hand-me-down outerwear.

The moment captures a simpler time, the calm before the storm that soon would engulf my life.

These were the days before the bullying started, when the 11-year-old me still had some self-confidence. It would be a rough couple of years ahead, ones to be endured rather than enjoyed. 

No doubt the mutual friend who posted that photo online had no idea the visceral response it would produce. After all, it was just a snapshot from a time when we all looked a little goofy.

Sure, I can laugh about it now. I have to.

Apparently I can’t get away from the gangly kid I was back then, no matter how hard I try.

And now, with Throwback Thursdays, I’ll never quite be sure when the photographic evidence will come back to haunt me.

Why, oh why, didn’t someone – er, I - burn those negatives?

• Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

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