School Picture Legacy

I survived school pictures, always held the second day of school and often an oppressive ninety degrees. My co-workers and I meet, sweaty and stressed, before school to have our annual shot for the high school yearbook and school IDs.

This event causes my palms to sweat and my blood pressure to rise. (Okay, I’ve never experienced permanently high blood pressure, but I suspect if there were a friendly volunteer with a cuff, checking staff in the waiting line, I would certainly register temporarily in the concern range)

My disdain for school pictures began long before middle age and the emergence of the extra chin that appears in a rushed photo.

It’s all about my tragic school-picture-legacy.

In kindergarten and 1st grade, I was nervous, concerned about remembering the envelope, remembering where to go, remembering to keep my special outfit clean. (typical, right?)

First Grade at Fulton Elementary School.

In second grade, my mom began a new pre-picture routine: washing my thick hair the night before and applying the amazing aqua-enhanced Dippidy-Do, so popular in the late 60s. She then wrapped my gooey locks around those pink foam rollers. (The pink rollers were an improvement from the torturous gray-mesh tubes with the pink pins in first grade. Those were ridiculously uncomfortable, and most of mine fell out during the restless pre-picture-night.) I guess most little girls with straight, lank hair were coaxed into those pink curlers–our moms surely envisioned their little Shirley Temple’s dimpled smile the next day.

Remember those black combs, gifts from the photography company our teachers passed out right before the big shoot? Well, in third grade, our poor substitute teacher, Mrs. Bach, distributed the combs, and my friend Larry passed mine to me.  (I don’t think I had ever used a comb, only a brush, as my hair was always so full of snarls.) I ran my fingers several times across the stiff plastic teeth. Then, I held the comb horizontally and began wrapping a long front portion of my hair around and around, pressing pieces between the teeth, resulting in a tight, huge chunk an inch or more above my eyebrows. (Why did I ever think this was a smart idea? I truly wasn’t an impulsive kid, and I tested well above average in IQ…)

I wiggled my head—no change. I tugged at it–no luck. I tried unrolling it–no movement.

I lowered my head and turned towards Donna. Quietly, trying not to panic or catch the eye of the teacher, I whispered, “Donna, do you have any scissors?”

Donna looked at me, puzzled, then gasped.

Mrs. Bach must have noticed our distraction. “Kathy, is there a problem?”

I slowly raised my head, revealing the new comb-sausage. “Oh….my…” she said, her eyes widening in surprise.

She tried unraveling the mess, gave up, and sent me to Mrs. Jager–our principal’s wife AND school secretary–to receive her scolds and her best attempt to remove the impossible tangles. (She ended up CUTTING it out of my hair.)

But my POSITIVELY WORST school picture experience happened in fourth grade. I stood in line behind my friends as they stepped forward for their pictures. The photographer–big voice, big glasses, big belly—gave each of my girlfriends a title: he announced Donna as Snow White, Dawn as Sleeping Beauty, and Darlene as Cinderella.

What little girl doesn’t dream of being such a famous princess?

I smiled, handed him my envelope, and wondered what name he would give me. I wasn’t sure what Disney princesses were left, but certainly he had a whole inventory of charming labels. I looked up at him and smiled sweetly.

“Well here she is…Mrs. Potato Head!” he trumpeted, laughing loudly.

Whaaaat? I quickly went from a princess-wannabee to a plain, little, freckle-faced spud.

This year, I handed the polo-clad photographer–also a middle-aged woman–my paperwork, pressed the top of my hand underneath my sweaty chin, and asked her if she could do anything about this…

“Yup,” she winked, “I know…I’ve got a couple tricks.”

And after her coaching and adjusting of my stance and head angle, she partially concealed the fullness of my mature mug.

So next year, I’m going to skip the annual school picture taking event (and the inevitable angst) altogether.  I am breaking the cycle. This current shot will remain in our annual yearbooks until I retire.

It’s a Fine Life.

Welcome, Sweet September

Tonight, the sound of marching band practice floats and rises, the notes nearly visible in the late summer air. Again, and again, the melodies scatter and settle in waves across our village.

High school athletes strut and sprint on the practice fields, as coaches’ whistles trill, corralling their spirited colts into organized teams.

Squirrels quicken their collecting, hummingbirds tighten their garden tours, and bullfrogs cease their courting calls. 

The new structure at Apple Knockers, the ice cream shop in town.

 September is here.

How is this possible? How did summer pass so quickly? How did we let it slip away?

Can you recall those endless days of your childhood?

Fifty years ago, a starchy Peter Pan collar, wool jumper, and new school shoes pinched as I left behind the freedom of June, July, and August. There were, of course, chores and expectations during those three months of bliss, but my brothers and I raced through our daily jobs, and soon the screen door slapped behind us. Our shady yard, fields, and woods quietly waited. Those childhood weeks brimmed with adventures: we built forts, we raced our bikes, we picked wild strawberries. In the peace of the woods, we discovered secret deer paths and salamanders in the leaves. On rainy days, our mother took us to town, where Mrs. Green patiently helped us select our library books. Or we stayed home, working puzzles and playing board games around the old kitchen table.  We spent the humid summer evenings peacefully protected from mosquitos on the old screen porch, reading or listening to Tiger Baseball while the annual cicada chorus intensified all around.

The steps to the old library entrance where dear Mrs. Green helped my brothers and me find our summer reading books. Photo by Leeanne Seaver

Our town pals enjoyed different things: summer recreation programs at the Old El, pick-up games at the school playground, swimming at the village beach. Some lucky friends traveled the interstates on family vacations, their fingers tracing the routes on road maps while billboards hawked the latest tourist attractions.  

But gradually, the Michigan evenings became cooler. We perused the JC Penney Back-to-School Catalog and took the annual school shopping trip. We selected our first-day outfits and tried on our shoes. We found our book bags and sharpened our pencils.

Yes, eventually, the season of freedom must end, and all children everywhere must wave goodbye to beautiful summer.

Farewell to dancing fireflies and bath-free summer nights—to cousins and staying up late.

Adieu to bike races and skinned-up knees—to cottages and travel campers.

Adios to Dixie Cups of Kool-Aid—to roasting hot dogs and tenting under the Michigan stars.

Flowers from our early September garden.

As this summer ends, let’s look forward to sweatshirts and an extra blanket at night. To cutting back our gardens and planning next year’s plantings. To watching the corn fields dry and the harvesting begin.

Let’s celebrate small-town Friday Nights: the gathering of our communities at the athletic fields and the crowd’s occasional roars, breaking the quiet of a village night.  

Let’s watch the maples display their fabulous fall frocks.

Let’s listen for the honks of the migrating geese.

And let’s welcome sweet September.

It’s a Fine Life.