Photos tell the story of the neighborhood’s ‘Daddy Engel’

From sports to the first day of school each year, the writer’s father kept a loving record of childhood activities

Harriet Cuthbert. Contributed photo
Harriet Cuthbert. Contributed photo

Everybody loved my dad. They even adopted him as their own. They called him “Daddy Engel” (my maiden name).

I grew up in Boston, in an apartment complex consisting of 48 units of exactly the same layout. We had two bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen, a living room, a foyer and a porch that overlooked our backyard, which was really our playing field.

We kids of all ages and shapes played every made-up game and sport imaginable — and my dad photographed us along the way.

In the winter, he shot us sledding and throwing snowballs, dressed up in five layers of clothing, plus boots and mittens. There we were, careening down the hill, and there he was, camera in hand, ready to capture our excitement and joy. Nobody ever complained about snow and cold weather.

He loved being outside with all of us on Sundays. He would catch up on the local gossip with the other fathers, but then he would quietly separate from the guys and find us and record our game of the day.

In spring and summer, our sports switched to our own version of baseball, tag and other, made-up games. We loved being outdoors and loved being together.

Dad did not drive. He took the trolley to work in downtown Boston. And when he walked up the street near our backyard, coming home from work, he whistled his special tune. All of us knew he would be in the yard any minute. As Dad appeared, the kids all rushed up to him with hugs and kisses and lots of laughter. They could not wait to see Daddy Engel and tell him about their day. I never saw such mutual joy and affection and can still picture it with not a single memory loss.

The annual Halloween parties were Dad’s favorite events. Of course, he was in charge of everything: planning the menu, recruiting neighbors to help and, most important: for this occasion, hiring a photographer to record each of those wonderful nights. Everybody in our neighborhood came to the Halloween party and just about everyone was in costume — some stranger than others. I can still smell the grilled hot dogs, roasted marshmallows and warm cider. All blended together so well and made for such a magical and memorable night.

I think the high point of Dad’s “career” as a chronicler was his dedication to photographing us every year on our first day of school. The excitement of new clothes, new teachers, new classrooms and, of course, new lunchboxes, was palpable. We could not wait to get to school. Down the stairs we came, into the backyard, dressed and ready for our annual photo. Nothing would have kept my dad from recording this most special day.

And, I have the pictures to prove it.