Janet Sheridan: Photo opportunities
July 9, 2015
"Mom, where are my baby pictures?" I asked as I idly turned the pages of a family album. So far I'd found a studio portrait and numerous photographs of the first born, Lawrence, and several more snapshots labeled Carolyn or Bob, but no bald Bray baby called Janet. "Didn't you take any of me?"
"Well, you were born during World War II when film was harder to come by. And the fact is that with each baby we had, your father and I got busier and busier and had less time for taking pictures. But I think this one might be you because you had hair."
"Exactly how important was I in the family lineup if maybe that's me?" I muttered. I studied the fuzzy photograph and tried to feel offended, but more pressing concerns soon diverted me: What was for dinner? Why did Bob have a bike, and I didn't? And where was Barbara going with my nightgown?
Now, with fewer issues to distract me, I spend time with old photographs, studying them with different eyes. I treasure the few my parents and relatives took of my siblings and me: toddlers posed in a battered red wagon, children in group photographs with relatives and friends, teenagers and young adults dressed for important events.
I even wish I had a copy of the home movies Aunt Lois took and showed at family get-togethers. In one of them, I watched myself at six playing drop the handkerchief with my cousins and understood a comment commonly made when I was young: "My, she's big for her age, isn't she?" As a teenager, I saw that when I galloped around the circle with a hanky, I looked like a stork cavorting with ducklings.
Though I wish I had more photographs and movies of the childhood I shared with my siblings, I wonder about the blizzard of snapshots and videos that track the lives of children today. Digital cameras and smart phones allow us take countless pictures, choose the best, and reject the worst — without worrying about the cost. As a result, our children grow up posing for pictures as regularly as they protest their homework or search for snacks.
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I've seen the offspring of friends, relatives, and strangers change from rowdy children to photographers' models in a split second. Without thought or instruction, when a camera appears, they assume a nonchalant yet artful pose, fix smiles on their faces, hold still without complaining, and then gather around the camera to see how they look.
They play competitive games in front of bleachers filled with proud parents, who watch the action through a lens so they'll be able to show others a video of little Eddy standing in right field looking confused while a fly ball plops in front of him or Missy making a valiant attempt to make a free throw but missing yet again.
We photograph our children during third-grade music programs, junior prom grand marches, Easter egg hunts, middle school track meets, and gold fish funerals. They pose for every imaginable first: lost tooth, day of school, bicycle, caught fish, trophy, date, dance, job, communion, car. Our cameras record them roasting marhmallows, opening presents, hanging by their knees from monkey bars, visiting grandma, and marching to Pomp and Circumstance.
Then, when left to their own devices, they take selfies.
I'm glad I have family photos: Lawrence, handsome and stern as a marine; my young father with his arm around my mother, looking at her like she's a treasure he can't believe he found; family groupings, which show us the way we were, the fuzzy toddler with ringlets who might be me.
Would I be even happier if I had 5,000 photos and several boxes of videos to sort through when I want to revisit my past? I don't think so.
Sheridan's book, "A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns," is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at http://www.auntbeulah.com on Tuesdays.