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A picture’s worth 1,000 words


September 2, 2010
By Ian Robinson

My son is 13 now and asked to see pictures of me when I was in high school. This is a perfectly normal phenomena.

At 13, you are searching for any evidence that you look nothing like your biological parents.

That’s because you are hoping beyond hope to discover proof that you are in fact not related to these … these … clowns who pretend to be your parents.

You’re praying for some Charles Dickens plot twist in which it becomes apparent that you were stolen from your real parents by unscrupulous lawyers and sold to these people.

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And that some day your real parents—“C’mon Brad and Angelina. Not getting any younger here.”—will swoop down to rescue you and give you a pony and a new Xbox.

 That allows you to harbour the hope that you’re not going to turn out like the old guy with the weight problem who has yet to mature beyond the “pull my finger” stage of humour.
Um, just using that one as an example.

That, um, wouldn’t be me. No sir.

Anyway, I whipped out the photo albums for my boy.

Note to young people: While these days your photos live either on your iPhone or somewhere on the Web on your Facebook or Flickr page, we used to keep hard copies of our pictures in books known as “photo albums.”

In fact, photos did not exist electronically.

I know this is a difficult concept to get your head around and I don’t blame you if you think I’m just making it up.

While members of your generation can—and often do—take pictures of themselves 268 times in any given 24-hour period, my generation was different.

As an adult, you got your picture taken on your wedding day and, in my family at least, in arrest photos.

When you were a kid, you got a camera pointed at you maybe two or three times a year.
The most important of those occasions would be at school, by a professional photographer, on what was known, reverently, as “Picture Day.”

The morning of Picture Day, your mom would sit you down and cut your hair, slick it back with a primitive hair product called Brylcreem and make you put on a shirt with a collar so tight that it impaired your decision-making process like a half-bottle of Jose Cuervo.

Then came the clip-on bow tie.

Like many guys of my generation, if I ever hit the lotto, the third thing I’m going to do is put out a hit on the SOB who invented the clip-on bow tie for kids.

The first two things involve a hot tub, 187 packages of raspberry Jello and eight contortionist girls from Cirque du Soleil.

If you could still find your way to school, given the reduced blood flow to your brain, you were off to get your photograph taken, pleading to God all the way that the photographer would trip the shutter when you had both eyes open and weren’t sneezing.

Because God help you if you had to bring home the sample package of photos and you looked goofy.

I’ve got friends who, decades later, still have a crick in their necks from the swat across the head they took because their folks thought they were fooling around on Picture Day.

Smack!

“But I just sneezed, ma! The guy took the pitcher when I sneezed.”

“Bullcrap. You was foolin’ around. You look like the Peterson kid got dropped on his head has to wear a hockey helmet all the time. You think I wanna send a pitcher like that to your grandma at the home? You want all your grandma’s friends to think her grandson’s feebleminded?"

Smack!

As your head bounced from side-to-side like a pinata, you’d entertain the thought that if you were actually feebleminded, maybe it was because grownups kept smacking you in the freaking head, but you’d keep that to yourself because your thought processes weren’t that degraded, at least not yet.

If you ever looked at photos of your parents from Picture Days past and wonder why these children looked like soldiers in history text photos about to march into machine gun fire, or wore smiles that made them look like small, frantic animals with their teeth bared as though they were about to bite … that’s why.

And the sad thing is, those photos were the best ones of all.

The other pictures were taken by your mom on your birthday and at Christmas.

And because taking photos cost money, it was an even bigger ordeal.

Not only was it expensive, it was a pain in the butt.

You had to buy film, shoot the photos and then take the film in to be developed, usually at a pharmacy for some reason.

If you used high-end film, you got a special envelope when you bought it, and you had to mail the film to Kodak and they’d develop it and send it back to you … by snail mail because pre-digital photography was also pre-FedEx.

So it wasn’t unusual for somebody to buy a 24-exposure roll of film and take six months to finish it.

Then it was another month before the pictures came back.

You could literally wait the better part of a year to see what you looked like the previous Christmas Day or on your birthday or standing in front of the Grand Canyon.

Although you didn’t have to worry about getting a smack for making a really goofy face or closing your eyes or sneezing when your mom took your picture.

Because when those photos came back, chances were Mom would have got her thumb in front of the lens again.

So if you ever wondered why it’s tough to get older people to smile for the camera?
It’s not cause we’re shy.

Some of us are just still scared.

As for my son, he’s extremely disappointed.

In the old pictures, the ones where I’m not behind my mom’s thumb or sneezing?

He looks just like me.