I can still remember my first camera from childhood– a thin, hot pink rectangle with Minnie Mouse on the side and a small braided loop for my wrist. It required a flashbulb tower that balanced atop the camera and puff of black smoke would billow angrily from the bulbs after each photo was taken. After the smoke cleared and my thumb was red from winding the film, my parents would drop it off for processing and retrieve the photos a week later, only to find that I had chopped off the heads of everyone in front of the Christmas tree and my thumb blocked most of the gift giving snapshots.
As cameras improved, along with my skill, I continued my craft: snapping shots of everyday life, holidays, or the one time my brother used a vacuum. (It was a requirement as my self assumed role as family historian. See also: the day he got his braces off.) Over the years, I have taken hundreds of thousands of photographs. But as my children grew older, they began to notice that one thing was missing: their mother.
And it was intentional: any time a group photo was desired, I would offer to take it, or politely decline to jump into the smiling masses. If begged into the photo by a well meaning friend, claiming “I’m too tall to get in the front” worked for a while, along with, “my hair is a mess”, “I’ve been up all night with the baby so I look exhausted”, and “I still have a postpartum belly” (which, please note that I plan to use said phrase indefinitely.) Yet, as my long line of excuses continued to grow, sifting through pictures of early marriage and parenthood and seeing only the kids and the various animals we have had over the years made me realize that one day I will not be the one behind the camera. I will no longer be present on earth, my snapshots will be shoved in a once shiny leather bound album that friends and family will drag out to reminisce once and a while, and I will only be a mental memory.
This year, stay in the picture. Those extra ten pounds, mouthful of braces, shiny skin, or tired eyes do not translate like you believe they do in photos. To them, you looked lovely in that pink dress on Easter; the camera does not care what size is on the tag. You were brave and strong to hike that trail despite all of the health issues you have encountered over the past few months. Do not allow a little sweat and the absence of makeup allow you to step out of that visual. Your grandkids love that porch swing, but they adore it with you swinging alongside them. Smile. Be you, and leave a legacy for generations yet to come.
Dr. Seuss said it best: “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory”. Make memories, friends. And say cheese. Stay in the picture, and savor life together.
(Note: This article originally appeared in the August 13th edition of the LaFollette Press, in my lifestyles column, Letters from the Nest).