My brothers and I are well documented. Photos, slides, 16mm film, every stinkin’ awkward moment of our childhood is set down in glorious (almost always) color. And nothing is more documented than Christmas.
Our very first appearance is on a huge 16mm film of my older brother’s first year. No one except my mother has actually made it through the entire reel without nodding off. Let’s face it, he’s a baby and he’s under a year old. It’s like an hour and a half of watching a wheel of cheese take a bath and go to the zoo.
I do not appear until the second reel, a vastly smaller film attesting to diminished funds due to parenthood. We like to refer to this as the abuse documentation. It features a Halloween where my mother chases me around the livingroom with a leopard mask on her face and my brother races back and forth through the frame dressed as a cowboy and shooting at me with a cap gun. This segment ends with a close-up me crying in terror.
The Christmas scene doesn’t improve matters any. That was back in the day when, if you wanted home movies you had to light the room with a bank of glaring lights. On Christmas morning from our darkened bedrooms this had the effect of making the living room glow, kind of neat when you’re convinced something magical happened the night before. But then you have to actually enter the room – from the darkened bedroom and hallway. The result was five minutes of watching us squint our way into the room, bumping into the tree, tripping over gifts and walking out of frame, only to be ushered back by my mother. She tries to put a doll in my arms and I look like Patty Duke as Helen Keller, feeling the face and body to determine what I’m holding: “D-O-L-L. It has a name!”
The reel ends with a scene in our backyard wading pool (Easter having been documented on photograph recording my brother plastered with so much Odell that if he fell, he’d break his hair, and me scowling in some evil-looking crinoline). My brother, as I remember, hated getting his face wet. So, of course, my mother starts splashing him as he is standing there, a good vigorous woosh to make sure it gets all the way up to his face. Only he moves out of the way, leaving me, sitting quietly behind him, to bear the major brunt of the wave. This segment ends with yet another close up of me crying.
The films taper off by the time my younger brother shows up and the medium of choice is now slides. By this time my mother has given up any pretension that her offspring are going to give those cute little Mouseketeers a run for their money. I appear for my Christmas morning close up in curlers and my older brother’s pajamas have holes in the knees. My younger brother is dressed in a sleeper that has seen better days when it was first on my older brother, then on me. This is a trend because for most of the slides my mother has obviously abandoned the idea that I was Shirley Temple and has opted for the more unisex look in children’s clothing. I appear in clothing my brother wore in the old 16mm days.
Only my father is undocumented during these years. He was the only one who knew how to work the camera. The few pictures that do exist feature a man sitting stiffly in a chair, obviously delivering instructions out of the corner of his mouth. Same chair, same position every time. Only in one someone has put a beer mug in his hand. In another my brothers and I are propped on the arms. In another, slightly fuzzy version, my mother stands over him. Pa becomes one of those die-cuts of political figures you can get your picture taken with on the Smithsonian Mall in D.C.
These days anyone can take a picture with digital camera and you can keep taking pictures until you get the one you want, ditching the rest. Holidays tend to be underdocumented since it get increasingly harder to make that same stinkin' tree look "interesting" every year. And how many times must the dog endure the Santa hat?
Because of the freedom digital photography affords, we take a lot more day-to-day photos. Each of us specializes in their own particular brand of embarrassment. I, of course, specialize in the dogs. Dirtman is fond of unflattering pictures of people doing absolutely nothing. Heirs 1 and 2: people attending to their toilette, most specifically, each other.
Chillingly, I realize this will be our legacy. Dogs and ugly people standing around, brushing their teeth and blowing their nose.
Sounds about right...