PICTURE DAY!

schlpixmntg1The other day I was handed a wallet-sized school photo of my 2nd grader grandson. The picture brought back a flood of memories. Suddenly I was standing in line at the beginning of a new school year in the best of my new wardrobe, waiting for my turn to sit before the big camera and the photographer dressed up in a suit. They would usually say something to get me to smile and after the first couple of years I learned the drill and my smile would be on automatic. (I remember practicing picture smiles in the mirror shortly before my teenaged years. I had a no teeth, upper teeth and a full teeth smile variations ready but usually went with just upper teeth smiles to hide my crooked bottom teeth) And then, click. I was immortalized forever as a 2nd grader with a missing tooth or some such look. Looking back I wonder how the photographers had enough patience to get all those different kids at so many schools to smile and look their best over and over. Maybe that’s why there always seemed to be a new photographer every year and maybe that’s why they invented ‘re-take picture day’. (For those pictures that went awry) I guess I would get tired of saying to first graders over and over, ‘are you going to give me your best smile today?’The beginning of the school year was always exciting; at first. I would have new clothes, a new teacher and a new status. But after a few weeks it was the same old thing. Usually in the early grade school years I would wear shirts my mother sewed for me but as I got older I started wearing store-bought clothes. In 8th grade I proudly wore a paisley shirt for picture day. And in 10th grade I thought I would really dress up and I wore a brown and gold tie with a dark orange cardigan sweater for the black and white school picture. (Way before Mr. Rogers) But when I noticed all my classmates wearing the more hip clothes and the popular girls pointing and snickering at me I felt somehow I had once more made a major faux paus. But my misguided resolve to stick with the classic look lasted until after the photo was snapped. And then I quickly removed the tie and stuffed it into my pants pocket and went to lunch. The guys I sat with at lunch never seemed to notice what I wore anyway. I guess I didn’t notice much about them either.Year after year I went through the same picture routine and year after year my mother and countless others like her would dutifully shell out various amounts of money for picture package A, B, C or D, you know D, the one with extra photographs and then sit with scissors and pen, marking the pictures for posterity, ‘Paul, 3rd grade, 1962’. And then she would mail the photos out to grandparents and various relatives and friends. And finally she would stand me and my siblings in the hallway and measure how much we had grown in the last year and glue our school pictures next to a line on the corresponding branch of her painted picture tree that I assumed was in every household in America. And sometimes she would hand me a few wallet sized pictures to take to school to trade with my friends.Usually, since I had only a few friends, and for economic reasons they didn’t always get picture package D with extra wallets, they didn’t have pictures to trade. So my extra wallet sized pictures would sit in the bottom of my desk until the end of the school year and then I’d bring them home with my used up tablets and worn out spelling book.schoolpicsr2_edited-1Yet the yearly school picture day was a big event. And year after year it marked a new phase in my life culminating finally in the summer before my senior year. I posed for my last school picture wearing my brother’s crested sports coat and my father’s tie and I rebelliously combed my hair down over my ears. I wasn’t sure if my hair was too short or my ears too long but my hair only covered half of my ears. I was sure it looked way better that way than behind my ears, which is how I usually combed it and still do to this day. (Since hair hanging in my ears is itchy)But, alas, I don’t get new clothes every fall anymore and my hair and my face look pretty much the same year after year. And my status never changes. So I squirm a little when someone points a phone or camera at me and says, ‘are you going to give me your best smile today?’ I’m usually wearing the same shirt I’ve worn the last few get-togethers and the picture will look the same as the one they posted last year, or the year before that. In fact the only thing that would look any different if they post that picture on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram is maybe my expression. You see I usually shoot for an intelligent, confident, knowing, upper tooth smile. But they usually capture my dull-witted, insecure, sarcastic full-crooked-teeth grin. Oh, my hair might be grayer and thinner and there are probably a few more wrinkles but otherwise it’s like a Twilight Zone montage of the exact same me. The kids get older but I stay the same.It’s almost like they’re taking the same school picture over and over and posting it again and again on the internet where it will live forever. And if it was possible you would turn it over and see the inscription on the back. ‘Paul at family get-together X. 20xx’To borrow a line from The Preacher in Ecclesiastes, ‘I have seen something else under the sun: The good school picture is not to the good looking or the most popular, nor does it come to the wise or to the brilliant or to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.’ Can you give me your best smile today? CLICK!

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