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February 18, 2014


In the "olden days," when we had family pictures taken, we were first given "proofs" to review. We chose the final photos that we wanted to have printed from those proofs. The word has lost its way in the world of digital photography, but this story by Annette Green takes me back to its meaning as though I were on a new road to a familiar destination. 

In "Family Photo," we see that photos still offer us proof. We see them on a screen, or we hold them in our hands, and as we gaze at them, we travel into the time that the image preserves. In the case of photos of loved ones gone on before us, and in some cases, who left before we could know them in their three-dimensional, human form, these photos grant us time with that person.

Annette's story is Haiku-like in its simplicity, elegant in its spare use of language. You could read it quickly, but my advice is that you don't. Savor it, linger over each sentence and think about where the simple statements take the narrator--and you. Then, dig out some of your own family photos--especially the ones you can't click on--the ones you can touch on the pages of albums that your hands open gently--and gaze into those family photos, knowing that we remain connected.


Family Photo
by Annette Greene
Photo, Ysabel de la Rosa

My favorite family photo is one that was taken before I was born. On the far left is my mother (five months’ pregnant with me) resting her right hand on the shoulder of my older sister, Yolanda, age seven. Yolanda looks like a little doll with her bangs cut straight across and a big bow gathering up her hair at the back. In the center of the picture is my grandmother, barely taller than Yolanda, and next to her is my brother, Sean. Quiet and introspective even at age five, his solemn facial expression stands out in contrast to the bright smiles of the rest of the family. Next to Sean is my sister, Marilyn, three years old and the youngest of the group. She’s pretty cute in her Sunday best, making a peace sign with two fingers of her right hand. On the far right behind Marilyn, dressed in a suit and tie and towering over all of us, is my father, Aaron.  My parents were both in their 30s at the time and, according to my mother, money was tight, but they were happy and in love.

In the years since the photo was taken, Yolanda had to grow up fast and help my mother and grandmother take care of us. Today, she’s a serious person with a determined, ambitious side. Still caring for people, she works as a nurse but is saving her money to go to Europe before she’s 30. I hope she makes it.

My grandmother lived with us until she died ten years ago. I remember her as patient and wise and never too busy to spend time with me when I was little.

Sean, now 23, has become a computer programmer and lives by himself, finally getting the privacy he always craved in our family’s small, overcrowded apartment.

Marilyn, the extrovert of the family, got married at 20. John, her husband, is twice her age. and they had a baby girl a year later. Some people will say that Marilyn needed a father figure, but I think she just knew what she wanted and found it young.

I look at this photo and try to imagine what my family was like before I was born. I especially like to look at my father who died six days after this picture was taken.  He was working as a gardener and fell out of a tree he was pruning. Mom says the tree wasn’t even very high so I guess he was just unlucky that this fall broke his neck and killed him.

My mother named me after my father, but everyone calls me by his nickname, Ari. People say I look like him. I’m eighteen and just graduated from high school this year. My family’s a lot bigger than most of my friends’ families except for the fact that my father hasn’t been here for my whole life. When I was growing up, I didn’t think I missed him like my mother, brother, and sisters used to.

It was my father’s birthday this past Sunday, and we all went to the park where he died, like we do every year at this time. It’s weird but, now that I’m older, I have begun to miss him more. He and my mother got married young—not much older than I am now. He certainly got cheated out of life, and we all got cheated not having him around. Maybe I’ll get to be a father someday. I want to be around for my kids and get to see what being a father is all about. I bet it’s kind of cool.


See Annette's other essay on this blog here.

Annette Greene is a freelance writer and educator living in Washington, DC. Originally from Vancouver, BC, she writes on a variety of topics, including health and wellness, travel, and cross-cultural communication. Essay copyright Annette Greene, all rights reserved.

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