I’ve been spending my post-holiday weeks licking some fresh psychological wounds, dished out by several people – most of whom share my last name and all of whom share my DNA.
Thanksgiving had all the makings of a typical holiday at my parents’ house, but this year, things went terribly wrong. Specifically, things went terribly wrong for me.
For reasons that are still unclear, one among our brood committed a serious breach of our family’s time-honored Thanksgiving rite, the post-meal jigsaw puzzle assembly. Instead of finding corner pieces, the offender sidled up to the dining room table in much the same way Jack Ruby slipped into the basement of the Dallas city jailhouse before polishing off Oswald: the crime was over before I even knew what had happened. Out of nowhere, under the 1,500-watt spotlight above the dining table, a photo album fell open to 1976.
Now, let me first say that I realize the holidays are a time for family and friends to gather and reminisce fondly about the past, and old photos often inspire such sentimental journeys.
Let me next say that you’ve never seen vultures like the ones that hovered over my mom’s photo albums, squawking at the photographic carcasses of the 1970s – my most unfortunate decade by far.
My incredulous children instantly spotted my sixth-grade school picture, howling uproariously. It was 1976, the Bicentennial Year, a year whose most momentous event was the unveiling of the Bicentennial quarter.
More than anyone before or since, however, my mother was consumed by all things Bicentennial, including the stars-and-stripes shirt that she urged me to wear for Picture Day that year. I was hardly a diva of fashion (see Exhibit A), but even I knew that wearing the Bicentennial shirt any time, much less on Picture Day, was taking a serious fashion risk from which there may be no return (see Exhibit A). I can’t remember how my mom finally pulled off such a coup, but I had obviously entered into a negotiation of some kind with her, and lost (see Exhibit A).
If wearing the Bicentennial shirt weren’t traumatizing enough, an ill-timed visit to my mother’s hairdresser only added insult to my star-spangled injury. Both my mom and the hairdresser were partial to pixie haircuts; for several years my sister and I were sheared mercilessly. Shearing Day, which had been the day before Picture Day, clearly marked the hairdresser’s successful release of months of pent-up aggression.
Most of my childhood haircuts were punctuated by a good, long cry and, Bicentennial Year or not, nothing would stand in the way of the meltdown I had the night before Picture Day. I looked like a BOY! Me – the girliest of girly girls – a boy. “Don’t be ridiculous,” my mom scoffed. “It looks fine.”
Looking as though I were auditioning for the part of Betsy Ross’ pre-pubescent brother in the school play, I wore the Bicentennial shirt (and the hyper-pixie) to school for Picture Day. Against the deafening din of laughter from sixth-grade boys, my teacher greeted me by asking, “Oh dear, what happened to you?”
When it was time for our class to have our pictures taken, we filed into the cafeteria where a crusty photographer was herding the last of the fifth-graders through the process. As my Bicentennial moment arrived, the photographer told me that I would need to take off my glasses before the photo.
A boy in my class had been made to take off his glasses the previous year and he looked like a clown. Without his glasses, his lazy eye immediately pulled inward, toward the bridge of his nose, which made him cross-eyed in his yearbook photo. “I don’t want to take off my glasses,” I asserted.
“Come on, son,” the photographer pushed, “you’ll end up with a glare.”
Son? The photographer thinks I’m a BOY! He just called me son! Oh, there was a glare, all right. My obstinance led to the photographer’s hasty repositioning of my glasses, which turned out to be considerably less fortunate than being cross-eyed (see Exhibit A).
I’ve long believed that my mother, the hairdresser and the photographer were in cahoots before Picture Day – involved in some kind of perverse Bicentennial tomfoolery, forever chronicled in my mom’s photo album.
Overcome by the hilarity of it all, my kids screamed and guffawed while texting and tweeting the photo of the Bicentennial Boy to the rest of the universe. Eventually, they’ll remember that I have photo albums of them, too.