Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Thanksgiving and the Best Photo (Family) in the World
Sometimes I have these moments when something strikes me with surprising emotional weight, a magnet that pulls me back to ground. One of those moments when I am completely derailed in the act of doing something. I was cleaning my room the other day and stumbled across this photo wedged between my desk and the wall. I soon lost track of time and space, lying with my legs splayed out across the floor I was trying to uncover.
My childhood is a series of stories too long and colorful for a single blog entry, with hidden languages and deeply rooted riddles. Mine isn't any more precious or important than anyone else's. But I have yet to find a photo that captures as much as this one.
Why? Well, the first obvious answer is tie dye. Matching tie dye, nonetheless. Handmade matching tie dye, with more drying tie dye in the background, in case the clothes we were posing in weren't colorful enough. If you squint, you can make out my little tie dye hat hanging on the back "wall." Handmade matching tie dye made that week at family camp. Tent 19: that was our little half-cabin half-tent, our home for a week each summer for eight (count 'em) years.
And then there's the Birkenstocks and velcro shoes. My mom had the same green Birkenstocks for most of the 1990s, those telltale comfort shoes that gave us away when we visited the East Coast.
But perhaps the most telling thing about this photo is the fact that I'm smiling. Not only smiling, but laughing openly. I was deeply, frustratingly shy for most of my childhood. In most photos pre-adolescence, I'm frowning, crying, looking desperately away from the camera, have my hands in front of my face, or am trying to hide behind someone else. That was never easy, as I was a big kid. But this photo is different: this photo shows an honesty I didn't realize I was capable of at six or seven years old. It was summer. We were at camp. We had goddamned matching tie dye outfits. Maybe I actually saw how lucky we were -- are.
And now, twenty years later, the only remnant of my tie dye life is a single pair of socks, a birthday present from my mother that I still wear with regularity. We are all taller, with darker, shorter hair, we are educated professionals, we live in different cities, we have witnessed a few murky political administrations, cheered over personal victories and bemoaned our own unforeseen stumbling blocks.
As well documented as my life has been, and still is, I can't find a recent photo of the four of us, all in the same place at the same time. It will happen soon, I'm sure, but somehow I doubt we'll be in matching shirts, sitting in a row on wooden planks.
This is for them, for Thanksgiving. For my brother, the high school science teacher, the one who writes poems with ketchup, surfs on 11 different boards, and taught me stick shift. For my father, my favorite running partner with the ponytail, my personal pharmacist, the man who knows instinctively when I need help and has never judged me for it. And my mother, the woman who has taught me more than anyone that being "multi" is an asset in life; multicultural, multipurpose, multifaceted. Happy Thanksgiving, Team HJ, with love from the girl who finally smiled.