Family Portraits

Family Portraits

You know how people have framed, posed family portraits on their living room walls? I have never had one of those, not with my family of origin or with my married family or with me and Six and Older Son. 

These portraits fascinate me. I try not to stare rudely at them when I see them. There is a difference between making a polite comment regarding the image of another person’s gene pool and staring at the image like an investigator studying some wing-nut’s murder board. 

How do people manage this herculean task? 

Please know that I am not criticizing this activity. Much like cooking regularly and vacuuming more than once every two weeks (in my defense, we do not have any pets), this gathering up of the family, shoehorning them into matching outfits, combing all their hair and getting them to the same location at the same time so someone with a camera can get them to huddle together artfully…I envy the people (mostly women) who make this particular brand of magic happen.

I know why my family never did this. We were a family of loners which is very weird to people who grow up in families full of people who have an ordinary ability to be in the company of other humans. Going through the rigamarole of getting all of us together at Sears just to get an image of us all awkwardly staring in different directions would have been an exercise in futility because no one would have taken the time to get a frame for the thing, let alone hang it up on the living room wall. 

It wasn’t until later in life that my mom made me schlepp Older Son down to the Sears Portrait Studio on a semi-annual basis, complete with cutesy little kid outfits, to sit for portraits. And then she bought frames and hung the damn things up! It wasn’t until I was taking her house apart after she died that it occurred to me that Older Son was always alone in these portraits. It was never even suggested that I sit in there with him. I don’t mind that I was never in these solo portraits and side-note: Older Son looked adorable in his choo-choo overalls.  

I’m deeply interested in the stories casual family snapshots tell. I loved looking at my mom’s photo albums when I was a kid. I found them fascinating and spent hours going over them, often pestering her with questions about the hazy cast of characters I had never met and only heard about when my aunt came to stay for the weekend. Backyard birthday parties, children swimming in a sea of torn up wrapping paper, grandma holding an impossibly tiny baby while sitting in the world’s ugliest Barcalounger…these were the images that spoke a thousand words. 

But there is something lovely about a purposeful family portrait. Maybe one day I will drive the boys down to a portrait studio or out to the beach and pay a remarkably patient photographer to try and get us all to unbend enough to appear as if we all belong in the same gene pool. I take that back. Now that we have Six, he will visually tie me and Older Son together, standing between us and beaming out at the photographer, a born extrovert stuck in a family of loners. 



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