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Picture Perfect


By Jim Tatum



If you’ve ever had to move someone’s household after thirty years, then you know the myriad of tasks involved in such an endeavor.

One of those tasks, of course, is going through family memorabilia. Everyone needs to do this once in awhile, if for no other reason than for the ensuing laugh riot that’s going to occur. To see what we dressed like, how we cut our hair, the things we said and did, all of it is an adventure in high comedy like no other. 

I remember one weekend a few years back when my siblings and I found ourselves wading through stacks of family flotsam. Everyone had their personal pile of junk to comb through and we took turns disinterring various artifacts and showing them to my mother for final disposition.

There is truth to the old saying, “You’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny.”

My brother, the diplomat of the family, was usually quickest on the draw, prefacing each of his finds with the following question: “Good lord, Momma, who are these buffoons?”

Mom would reply, in tones that imply you are either criminally unsentimental or just severely mentally challenged, “That’s Aunt Mustache and Uncle Squint and your cousins Eek, Schlurp, and Drip, and they lived in Olar during the Coolidge Administration!.”

After a stern admonition not to talk about family like that, we would learn that Eek suffered from an unfortunate skin condition that followed her well into adulthood, Schlurp retired from the Bum Plant after 30 years and dropped dead two days later, and Drip married a chiropractor who turned out to be bad to drink and spent all of Drip’s inheritance before running off with a taxidermist from Moncks Corner.

OK, OK, so I never had an Aunt Mustache or Uncle Squint. But truth be told, I couldn’t make up most of the characters we ran across in all those boxes and envelopes. Bless their hearts.

Of course, as much fun as it is to get a good laugh at someone else’s expense, there’s still nothing funnier than we were during our awkward stages, which appeared to follow us, like Eek’s unfortunate skin condition, well into adulthood. 

Sadly, the one set of pictures I really wanted to find seems to have disappeared forever. It came about as a result of my mother clipping a coupon for a terrific bah-gan – a half price photo session at the local Olin Mills studio. Unfortunately, this amazing offer was only good one Saturday afternoon during the holidays at a studio located in one of the busiest shopping malls in the country.

None of us liked getting our pictures taken and my father despised crowded shopping malls and holiday traffic. But on this day, an especially visible aura of hostility shined through. For one, this was some three decades before the advent of the VCR, much less the DVR, so my father and brother were essentially being forced to forego the Auburn-Alabama football game to get into coats and ties and waste a Saturday afternoon waiting around a hideously crowded Olin Mills studio in Tyson’s Corner. My sisters also would prove to present less than cheerful countenances.

Then there was yours truly, who even at the tender age of 7 could recognize impending disaster when I saw it.

After waiting in line for several hours – Mom somehow believed ours was the only household in the metro Washington D.C. area to receive this amazing offer – it was our turn to snarl for the camera.

Except for me. Instead of radiating hatred in my eyes, I crossed them. Since I was sitting on Mom’s lap, no one except the photographer could see what I was doing. I spent the entire session alternatively bucking my teeth, picking my nose, and making other such attractive and intelligent-looking facial expressions. The photographer mentioned nary a word about this. Instead, he cheerfully accepted a personal check from Mom and mailed the results two weeks later. 

She was not amused.

I have misplaced my copy of the photo and am desperate to find it, because it’s just a classic. The simple caption, “Merry Freakin’ Christmas” would undoubtedly make it an instant best selling Christmas card.

Alas, my fortune is still waiting to be re-discovered, probably at the bottom of a shoebox. 

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