When I was younger, this is exactly the sort of family I wanted. I was fascinated with little vintage frames in thrift stores that came with photos just like these.
This is a dream family– polite, on time, well-dressed.
Even if you offered to pay my family 4 million dollars to take a similar picture, they wouldn’t be able to do it. Someone would be late. Two people would be too busy talking to look at the camera. My little brother would be wearing scuba flippers, or a cowboy hat. My little sister would have a black eye or a fake tattoo or a pirate patch. Someone would have brought a pet.
This dad has a normal job, something that could be described with one word, or two if he’s feeling technical. He looks like a banker, a teacher, or a business accountant.
He’s not anything as vague as a consultant or small business owner.
There’s only three of them. That seems reasonable.
I remember the day I came down to dinner and saw only 9 people seated around the table. “Where is everyone?” I asked, because a meal with just 9 people was as close to dining alone as I had ever experienced.
This family wears American clothes, that fit and match.
My own family’s style sense was based on fashion from a hundred different countries, the economical concept of hand-me-downs, and a frightening lack of taste. Intelligence doesn’t give you magical insight into how to wear clothes, or as my brother says it, “Just because I can spell chartreuse in 3 languages doesn’t mean I could identify it in a pack of crayons, let alone match it to something.”
This is the sort of picture you frame, and put on a mantel. It’s dignified and composed.
We had a mantel over our fireplace, I’m pretty sure, but it was never clear enough to put a frame. Stockings hung year ’round because one of the kids would always start crying when they were taken down. And no one in my house ever quite got around to filling frames with photos. Even if circumstance had allowed for a framed photo on our fireplace, though, I’m not sure what photo we could have used.
My family’s group photos always looked a little something like this:
Or, if we were in a particularly human mood that day, something like this:
When I moved out of my family’s house, though, I started to see things a little differently. I went to a dinner party ay a friend’s house where no one spoke through the whole meal, just peered over at the TV. I ran into the little brother of a high school acquaintance, who didn’t know what college (if any) that his older brother picked. I tutored a young girl whose mom would leave for work without a kiss or goodbye.
Then one day, I was in an antique mall with my oldest nephew, flipping through comics from the golden age, when I saw a picture just like this one, in an beautiful etched frame. Exactly like something I would have purchased in my teens.
Instead of being filled with wistful envy, though, the picture made me a little sad. Now, I know that for a long time, people tried not to smile in photos. I’m not sure why, exactly, but I think I read somewhere that it had to do with how long it took a camera to snap a picture. Then the system stuck. Whatever the reason, I know enough to know that a lack of smile doesn’t necessarily denote unhappiness so I laughed to myself, and showed my nephew the photo.
“Look at this family, what do you think?” I asked.
He glanced over, “That’s not a family.”
“No?” I re-examined the photo, “Why don’t you think they’re a family?”
With the simplistic confidence of a child, he said, “That’s easy, Rara. Their hearts aren’t smiling.”
So with age, I learned what my nephew grew up understanding — that our family isn’t the sort that takes dignified photos that you can put on display. We’re large, messy, mis-matched, badly dressed, and loud — but even in a hundred years, if someone saw a picture of us, they’d know we were family.
Because when we’re around each other, we’re smiling — with our faces, with our eyes, and with our hearts.
That’s something I guess.
Also, participate in the Daily Prompts over at the Daily Post. It’s a challenge, and it’s fun! This particular post is written in response to the Weekly Writing Challenge, a Picture is worth 1000 words where we were prompted to write about that first picture at the top: