Ode to the Family Photo

American family vacationing in Maine, circa 2010

At about three-quarters of the way through one of the family gatherings which my parents host during the year, you’ll hear someone announce above the din, “It’s time for the photo!”

There will be grumbling and dragging of feet toward the gathering place. At the cottage in Maine, that means the front porch. When we used to celebrate Thanksgivings here, it was often cold or drizzling but no matter — the photo must go on. As the last stragglers arrive, the rest of us banter and pretend to complain. I wish I had an audio recording to go with the photo. “I’m sitting next to my spouse this year, not like last time,” a cousin from Boulder asserts. “Where’s so-and-so?”

Cameras of all shapes and sizes are handed forward to Marie, my parents’ housekeeper and unflappable factotum. She snaps away, hoping to capture an instant with 27 sets of eyes open at the same time.

Beneath the faux protests, what we all know is that this moment will be framed and hung on a wall of the cottage, joining the others. We can stroll through the rooms and halls as time travelers, finding our images from earlier eras, amazed at how young we all look. The hair is darker. The young ones have not arrived yet. The teenagers are children. The old ones are not yet gray. My father’s brother is still with us. It’s all there, in miniatures of a growing family.

“The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time,” James Taylor sings in one of my favorite songs. There are lots of ways to do it. Don’t be late for the family photo. Keep your eyes open for a moment that may last for years.

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