Back in my teens and early twenties, I thought posing for the family Thanksgiving photo was kind of annoying. Just about the time I’d be digging into my carefully allocated favorite foods—while declining any not-so-favorites still circling past me in the hopes I’d free up some precious plate space—the request would be made. “Look up…over here…and smile everybody!” I’d oblige, mid-mouthful, smiling just enough to not mess up my spearing and shoveling momentum. Even when I became a hostess rather than a guest, I’d pause only for a half-seated pose, saying “cheese” then “Who wants more gravy?” mid-route back to the kitchen.
“What’s the big deal?” I wondered silently. “We all know what we look like. Besides, I already have a shoe box full of these different-year-same-diningroom-table-type shots.” And then, I found the old Polaroid.
Sometime in early motherhood, the little girl things I’d taken for granted became vitally important pieces of a legacy I needed to preserve. And the decades of old Polaroid pictures hiding in the shoe box were treasures worth sharing with my girls. Way down on the bottom, we found one of my first Thanksgivings captured in black and white.
The year was 1958. Nine of us are seated around my Nana’s table: myself, my cousins, my aunt, my uncle, my sister, my mother, and my grandparents. We’re all in various stages of spooning and serving and planning out second helpings when the camera froze us for a happy, hectic instant. I am two-and-a-half, perched on a step stool beside my Nana in a frilly dress I still dimly remember. My mother, seated on my other side, has just turned 30. She’s beaming a wide, relaxed smile while her arm is poised like a safety spring to hold me, her youngest, from toppling over and taking the holiday festivities down with me. Nana, looking over her shoulder with a hasty grin, seems to be saying something like: “Hurry up and take the picture before everything gets cold!” The only evidence of my Dad in the portrait is the burst of his flash bulb in the upper corner of the mirror hanging over the table. Below, three generations of heads turning toward the photographer’s light for a few immortal seconds, are reflected in the mirror, too.
Like all middle-aged moms, I have special Thanksgiving prayers about family and food, love and well-being. Before saying them, though, I think back to that old Polaroid print. It’s in the scanning of the grey setting that my here and now becomes vivid, because all the adults—the grandparents and parents posing at that Thanksgiving table—are now gone. After the flash bulb burst and my Dad sat back down, we all went back to our steaming plates, blissfully unaware that most in our precious gathering would, one by one, be leaving the table way too soon. I imagine my Mum looked up from her holiday feast thinking she was posing for just another snapshot. How could she know she’d already lived two-thirds of her short life?
The photo from 1958 is now archived somewhere in the moving boxes I have yet to unpack. Someday, I’ll take it out of the shoe box and preserve it like it really deserves, stuck for posterity amid the prints of my daughters’ birthdays, holidays, vacations and everything in between. By mid-February, I figure, I’ll be more than ready to take up scrap booking to get myself through my first Rangeley winter. Meanwhile, I’ve got a slide show playing in my head of the most memorable year of my life. It’s been another year of challenge and loss, of beauty, hope and abundance, of my wildest dreams unfolding before me. This Thanksgiving, as I pause, smile, and really look at my family around the table, I will celebrate being there with them. I will give thanks for my daughters, now grown into beautiful, strong, amazing women who mother me back while keeping me young at heart. I will commemorate this year as one of great balance, of growth and simplification. While my home and lifestyle became comfortably smaller, my world once again includes my sister and my niece. And I’ve gained a new love and understanding for Tom’s brother and sisters, making my extended family closer than ever. I will give thanks for all of them, especially Tom, my husband and forever friend—the center of my beautiful collage. I will sit still for the annual picture, aware that it IS a big deal, being another year older sitting around the same old table.
I will never lose sight of my old Thanksgiving Polaroid. It’s a necessary backdrop for me. In contrast, though, my here and now is too vibrant for me to dwell on portraits of my life gone by. Spirit willing, I picture myself in my 80’s surrounded in living color by my family and friends, focused on the blessings right in front of me.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Be blessed.
(For more on Thanksgiving, see Quirky Turkey.)