Thursday, June 4, 2009

Portrait of an American Family


Have you stopped laughing at the picture yet? Okay. I'll wait.

I can't believe you're still laughing! How very insensitive of you.

Okay. I'll admit it. When I came across this photo in my picture box yesterday, my first impulse was to physically cringe and my second was to giggle. I just sat and looked at it and wondered if I submitted this to a Most Hideous Family Photos of All Time contest, if it would win first place. I think it might.

Let me set the scene for you.

Picture it. 1976. The Bicentennial of our country. If I recall correctly, my Granny found those lovely red white and blue vests at a yard sale and thought just how very perfect they would look on her precious grandchildren. Of all of her thousands of downright lovely qualities, my Granny possessed not one single ounce of fashion sense.

When Granny presented the oh so very patriotic vests to my mother, it was decided between the two of them, now that we all had matching clothes, it would be just a swell time to have a family portrait taken. And here's a sad little fact for you Dear Friends: this was the first and only family portrait we ever took. This one. Doesn't that just beat it all to hell?

Shortly before this photograph was taken, my father had broken his leg while working at a saw mill. He'd been out of work for several weeks and had put on a few pounds laying around the house. He looks a wee bit bloated. And, how about that snazzy checkered shirt with the giant collar? I can only assume it was fashioned from a tablecloth ripped off from the local pizzaria. (And, see how very happy Dear Old Dad looks in the bosom of his family?)

As you can see, my mother had a relatively young baby and was still toting around some excess baggage. I have no explanation whatsoever for her hairdo. I can only apologize to you for the damage to the ozone layer that must have occurred from the massive CFL emission put off by the three cans of Aquanet it took to get her hair like that.

My sister, Inga, is to the left of my father. We always wore hand-me-downs so I have to assume that the reason her pants appear to be swallowing her alive is because they recently belonged to our sister, Tonjia, who is three years older than she is. I must say though...Inga sure looks happy. I wonder what she just got away with by blaming it on me?

Tonjia is directly behind Inga. She must have just been hitting puberty, poor thing. I don't recall her hair ever looking like this, but then again, I was busy sliding down barn roofs and eating blackberries and running through cornfields. While I was actively engaged in those extremely important activities, Tonjia was most likely camped out in her room or under a tree reading a book or writing poetry and trying to avoid her family altogether. (You know how I write really bad poetry? Tonjia writes really good poetry.)

Teal is next to Tonjia and let me just say, "wow." Look at that hair. She must have been getting ready for roller derby tryouts or something. Apparently, a large portion of our family's budget was designated for hairspray. This is also the same facial expression Teal wears in every photograph taken of her. Never a real smile. Weird. She has some of the best teeth in the family, too. If I had teeth like her, I'd be smiling like a goon every time someone whipped out a camera. Teal is pretty much the very definition of "introvert," though. I have some seriously strange stories about that one, I do.

My little sister, Summer, is on my father's lap. She was just a few months old and in the larger version of this picture, you can actually see drool running out of the corner of her mouth. Summer was the "oops" baby and happened along six years after I'd asked my mother if she was ever going to have any more babies. To this she responded with a hearty laugh, "No, honey. You're the last one." Then, not only did my mother have the audacity to get accidentally pregnant, but the circumstances under which Summer was concieved, led my mother to proclaim her as a "miracle baby." In my mind, I might as well have right then and there, put all of my worldly possessions in a bandana, tied it to a stick and hopped the local train to wherever it was bound. (My mother forgets my name if Summer and I are in the same room together. "Ann...Amber....Alice?")

I saved the best for last. I am the incredibly adorable child on the right who is missing several teeth. Damn, I was cute. I remember this year of my life mostly because I lost four teeth at very near the same time and was rendered incapable of eating corn on the cob. When my Granny would offer to cut the corn off the cob for me, I would cry because, "It's just not the same!" Those of you who have eaten home grown corn right from the fields of Southern Illinois, you know what I'm talkin' about.

So, there we are in all our glory. A poor, snaggle-toothed, baggy pants wearin', table cloth shirt havin' family, which includes a closet roller derby queen and an undiscovered poet.

I look at all of those faces and have so many mixed emotions. It's difficult to comprehend that thirty-three years have passed since this photo was taken. Thirty-three years, countless heartbreak, eleven children, divorce, marriage, prison time, bitterness, forgiveness, acceptance and love.

There is a sweetness in some of those faces and an innocence not yet shattered. I love those faces, and occasionally, I shed a few tears for them.

13 comments:

lakeviewer said...

A moment to cherish, no? We are the sum of all those days, and for the trick of photography we can remember every detail of just one moment. Nothing stays still, as you have come to appreciate.

Kathy G said...

I'll have you know that those granny square vests were the HEIGHT of fashion in 1976 (as were the hairstyles).

I hope they never return to fashion again.

Wendy said...

Here are some more awesome ones:

http://listoftheday.blogspot.com/2007/09/great-olan-mills-photos.html

Glynis said...

Ok, ok, I am ready now...no wait *giggle*...ok I loved the pic, the vests are something my mother would have made my kids and wow what a family gathering.
On a serious note, it is sad it is your only family pic and I can understand your tears. Thanks for sharing.

Andrea said...

Lucky you for having this picture - for whatever came before and whatever came after, this is who all of you are. You've come a long way from those patriotic vests!

My parents were not fond of family portraits or professional portraits of any kind so I have none! Cherish this forever!

Amy said...

Rosaria: Yes, and I do cherish it it a way. My picture box is the one thing that's made it through every move I've made over the years, and that's no small feat.

Kathy: So, what you're telling me is we were trendy?! Wow. Look at us. I guess people must have wondered what we fashionable people were doing waiting in the government cheese line.

Wendy: I checked it out. Wonderful! I'm SO going to send in my picture!

Glynis: The first person to admit to laughing. You should win a prize of some sort! Thanks for your comment. I appreciate it.

Andrea: You're so right. This little snapshot in time conjures up about a million words worth a memories. Maybe I'll have it enlarged and framed. On second thought....maybe I'll just keep cherishing it from it's place in The Box. (It IS pretty ghastly!)

Cubil said...

Funny, I looked at that picture and suddenly heard the Partrich Family singing "I Think I Love You"

Reya Mellicker said...

The picture is funny, yes ... but the post is hilarious.

Are you the middle child? I was in my family of four girls and one boy. The middle child of doom - might as well say it out loud.

You were really cute, you were and you are. Bravo!

Amy said...

Cubil: You know...I kind of hear that same song playing...

Reya: I am the next to the last child. My younger sister is seven years younger than I am.

Thanks for acknowledging the fact that I was the cutest. (That IS what you were saying, right?!)

Shawna said...

Aw, it's a memorable photo and you did describe your family members honestly and lovingly.

That being said, you might find a visit to awkwardfamilyphotos.com a worthy investment of your time after this post if you haven't heard of it already! :)

Shawna's Study Abroad

Amy said...

Shawna: Thanks so much for stopping by and for leaving a comment. The website is hilarious and I seriously think I ought to submit my photo! Your blog looks awesome and I can't wait to find a few minutes to check it out a bit more. Again, many thanks.

Tonjia said...

Honest to god. I am not stalking you. I was sipping my cabernet savignon, and feeling quite sophisticated, when I popped into your blog and discoverd the bicentennial family photo.Oh my god, you are so freaking funny, I was rolling in the floor. The funny thing is... we were trying so hard to look normal. lol....roflmao. We came across as anything but. lol. Seriously, I'm drooling down the side of my face.It was so much fun we never did it again. roflmao. I cannot imagine what was up with my hair. I think it was scared straight....

Amy said...

Tonjia: I don't think you're stalking me! I'm more than a bit flattered that you read my blog now and again. More likely than not, we find this much more humorous than everyone else because we were the ones in the vests. (They might as well have been straight jackets, no?)