I am a lover of stories and, and since most stories are housed in books, that makes me a book lover.
My favorite book, however, is a huge leather-bound tome that contains no words at all, but tells a beautiful story of the passage of time in the life of one family.
The first photo in the book is of Stephen and I on our wedding day. It was taken by our brother-in-law. We’re sitting together on the fireplace hearth in my new in-laws’ home. That’s where all the ‘official’ wedding photos were taken during the ‘reception’ that took place in their basement after the ceremony at the tiny United Church. We had invited the several of the handful of guests the night before at the New Year’s Eve dance. (I’ll never forget the response of one of our twenty-something guy friends whose response about fifteen minutes and half a bottle of vodka before midnight was, ‘I have nothing to wear!’)
I decided that I wanted an annual family photo from that day forward, shushing Stephen’s worry over the next five years that all we were doing was documenting the slow degeneration of our bodies.
Gabriel finally joined us, followed by Jacob a few years later. Luckily, we had found a wonderful photographer by then, Susan H. Smith, who has taken our annual photo for the last 16 years.
We only see her once a year and yet she brought her Book Club to a Leaf reading in Red Deer a few months ago. That, alone, speaks volumes, about her character.
She’s also a lot of fun and has done a great job of keeping the boys engaged and smiling over the years. She also takes great pleasure in twisting Stephen into interesting positions whose primary function is to remain stable at the base of whatever family pyramid we might be building.
One of those laughter-filled sessions resulted in the picture we affectionately refer to as The Thalidomide Photo. Stephen is sitting on his folded leg, holding me, who is holding Jacob, on his lap. In the photo it looks like his leg ends at the knee.
So many memories surround each photo shoot.
There’s the one and only photo of Stephen with a moustache taken in our first year of marriage. That one was taken when we lived in Abbotsford by a fellow displaced Saskatchewanite who, when he heard where we were from, launched into the recitation of a poem that spoke to Stephen’s prairie-starved soul.
Do you feel the force of the wind, the slash of the rain?
Go face them, go fight them, be savage again.
Go hungry and cold like the wolf. Go wade like the crane.
The palm of your hand will thicken.
The skin of your cheek will tan.
You’ll grow weary, but you’ll walk like a man.
Then there’s the full length photo the photographer in Kelowna insisted we take because ‘you’ll never keep such a nice, slim figure, my dear.’
Sure proved her wrong.
And the one of pregnant me taken as a surprise while Stephen was out of town on business. Gabriel arrived two weeks early the very next day.
There’s the photo where Stephen is nonchalantly holding down Gabriel’s chubby hand to keep him from popping his thumb back into his mouth, its tell-tale redness revealing his endearing habit.
There’s the one where three year old Gabriel is sitting in a wicker basket, holding tight to his best friend Spot (a weather beaten, no-longer-white stuffed dog) mere days after having his body cast removed after six weeks of toddler torture.
And Jacob. One year leaning against his dad in a golden field of straw, grinning his mischievous, elfin grin, and the very next year sitting with one hand planted on his thigh, elbow cocked, an expression of quiet self-possession on his face as he invoked his future teenage self.
Oh, they grow up so fast!
I love flipping through the album to pore over them all, but my favorites grace our walls.
When the boys were 5 and 3, we had Susan take a special photo of the two of them, much larger than our usual 8 x 10, that we framed and hung in the living room.
I loved it so much that I decided we should do this every five years.
So when they were 10 and 8, Susan worked her magic again.
This photo took center stage over the piano in the living room, bumping the previous one to our bedroom.
This past year, at 15 and 13, they had a few more opinions about how the annual photo should go down.
My vision was driven by a photo I had seen in the dining room of a house we were checking out during a house hunting expedition in Calgary thirteen years ago. It was a black and white photo of two brothers smiling into the camera with their arms slung across each others’ shoulders. That photo of joyful brotherly comradery stayed with me over the years. I wanted one like that of my sons.
Unfortunately, the huge difference in height between the boys made that image ridiculous. (I shelved it for another five years when, hopefully, the teenage growth spurts will have evened things out.)
We started playing around with other ideas and this is what we ended up with (although my photo of Susan’ photo is woefully inadequate):
I love this picture!
It perfectly encapsulates my sons at this stage of their life.
Several weeks later, when Susan handed me the framed photograph, she said, ‘I’m so glad you chose this one, but I still think you need one of the boys’ smiling faces.’
And she gifted us with this fabulous 5 x 7.
She was so right.
Did I mention that she is a lovely, lovely person?
It is said that if you want to discover what a person values, take a look at the things that adorn their home. There’s no question that our four person family unit is the most important thing in the world to me.
It’s as plain as the pictures on my wall.