My brother is getting married in Northern Vermont on New Year’s Eve. Phyllis, his bride, wants to display photos of their parents on their own wedding days. I was given the task — as oldest, and de facto family historian by virtue of being thrilled when people send me old letters, clippings and photos — of finding a photo of my mother and father on their wedding day.
For most people this would have been an easy task. In the Bowler family, however, there are but two wedding photos of my parents. They are, of course, in black and white, taken by someone who, it appears, did not have much facility with a camera back in 1945. Mum and Dad, both looking very young and incredibly fit, are dressed in their Navy uniforms. During their first year of marriage, they communicated by letters while my father plied the cold seas in an ice-breaker.
Their wedding was a small affair, attended by a few of my dad’s relatives and my mother’s mother and little sister, who came to Massachusetts by train from Nebraska. No white dress, no veil, no reception in a hall, no honeymoon. They just got married, and we have the two photos that don’t even prove it was a wedding — just two young people in uniform standing on the sidewalk in Ayer, Massachusetts, on a day in the middle of March. Not a fancy beginning, but the marriage lasted!
As I was digging for the wedding photo, I came across photos of my five siblings and me at various Christmas seasons. In one of my favorites, we are all dressed in the red and white striped pajamas and nightcaps that my Aunt Kay sent to us. I remember the pajamas fondly, nice warm flannel, and so bright. In the photo, they are black and white, and we look more like little urchins in prison outfits than Santa’s elves.
There were also photos of a few of us that mother snapped with her big old Kodak camera as we sat on Santa’s lap. Some of us were happy, some of us petrified. No one was bored. My own photos of my kids and Santa are remarkably similar. Until a child is old enough to connect Santa with gifts, and to understand delayed gratification, Santa is just a scary old guy.
In one photo, Cassidy, dressed in a red snowsuit and old enough to have figured out that she should be a nice little girl for Santa, has a fakey smile on her face. Her younger sister, however, in a green snowsuit, is trying mightily to escape Santa’s lap, only being restrained by Santa’s elf, in a stocking cap and stripped tights.
We went to a holiday party one year at which Santa was to make an appearance. Jake was about three or four years old, and having a marvelous time running wild with the other boys. Suddenly, Santa appeared at the door, bells ringing, ho-ho-ho-ing in a deep voice. Jake drew himself up to his full height of about 36 inches and shouted at Santa, “You get out of here!”
Fast-forward a couple of years, we are at the same gathering, Jake and the same kids are running wild, but have been shooed outdoors to try to keep the noise level down. Santa drives up in a Chevy, and the boys see him lean over and grab his red hat and beard from the passenger seat and don them.
The boys came running into the party lickety-split, screaming, “He’s a fake! He’s a fake!” The party organizer, with smoke coming out of her ears, gave us parents a very, very, dirty look, and we ran to grab the boys and put a hand over each little loud mouth.
My own grandchildren are deep into anticipating Christmas. They peruse the catalogs, walk the toy aisles, draw pictures of the Baby Jesus, and the Christmas tree, have spelling words such as “reindeer” and “sleigh,” sing in school holiday programs, and have little parties at school.
Peyton and Andie had a “sleep-over” at my house; we made cookies (they ate a lot of the chocolate chips before they had a chance to be put into the dough) and watched “The Grinch.”
As they were eating their oatmeal in the morning, I opened the mail. “Oh, look!” I said. “Here’s a card from Dort!” Dort is my friend and their babysitter.
“I bet there’s a dollar in it!” Peyton said.
“No dollar, “ I said.
“Oh, sorry,” she said delicately. “We got dollars.”
So we wait for the big day, like generations before us, to celebrate our faith, to gather with our families, to contact far-away friends, and count our blessings.