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.

By Kathleen Oswalt-Forsythe © September 26, 2019

4 Replies to “School Picture Legacy”

  1. Kathy—I love this post! So vivid, so honest….
    I really don’t enjoy having pictures taken of myself. This was a problem with 2 weddings this summer. I just sucked it up and smiled the best I could and said “this isn’t about me, it’s about my kids” and away we went.
    What a mean photographer….”Mrs. Potato Head”! He probably thought he was being funny, but it does remind me that our random comments to others can really stick in their heads (like forever).
    Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Oh heck yes girl. I love this. I hated school pictures. So stressful. I forgot about pictures one year and I wore my brownie uniform. My teacher said oh my gosh you you know class pictures are today. I was so panicked I asked if I could call my mom. My mom talked me off the edge and now I love my freckled faced impromptu brownie picture. If you like this years picture stick with it.

    1. School pictures were such a big deal. One shot. It is definitely better now with the photographer’s ability to immediately see the picture, but still awkward. My mom always ordered a ton of pictures for the grandmas and relatives, I bet your mom did, too.

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