Portrait; the Whole Story

“Don’t move Lulu! Hold still!
“Just sit still two minutes and it’ll be over.”
Lulu gritted her teeth and Mom pulled the comb through Lulu’s tangled back hair.
“If you’d let me cut it off neither of us would have this problem.”
“NO!!! I want hair like Rapunzel!!”
“You’ll never have hair like Rapunzel. That’s just a story.”
“But maybe. OW!”
“Hold still.”
“Why can’t you just brush it?”
“I want to braid it, that’s why. It’s not your problem, Lulu. Just don’t move.”
Lulu decided to get even by sitting up ram-rod straight. Mom laughed to herself. If she hurried she could get this done before Lulu wasn’t mad any more.

In another room, Dad knelt in front of Hugo and clipped the bowtie onto the little boy’s white shirt. And in the living room, one of Dad’s friends, a photographer at Dad’s job, was setting up a fancy camera on a tripod. He’d already set up a couple of spot lights so everything would be perfect for an interior shot without a flash. 

“I want a real picture,” said Mom one night at supper. “Not just a snapshot.”

That’s how it happened that the family was putting on Sunday clothes on a Saturday afternoon and combing out tangles in a little girl’s curly hair. 

The ordeal ended in pigtails with red ribbons. Lulu didn’t think the ribbons went with her dress at all but Dad said it was a black and white picture and this wouldn’t take very long, and they could go out to play. Dad was given to non sequitur but what can you do? 

For some reason Dad’s friend wanted Lulu and Hugo to KNEEL in the chairs looking over the back with their arms folded on the back of the chair, their chins resting on their arms. Lulu thought to herself, “Do you know the trouble we get into if we do this?” But Mom and Dad stood approving the whole thing as if they thought kids should kneel in chairs all the time. 

“OK, Hugo, look at the camera. look right here. NO! Don’t cross your eyes. Just look at the camera. Good, hold it, hold it, hold it. Good! OK, Hugo, just one more. This time I want you to smile at me.”

Hugo crossed his eyes and shot a lopsided grin at the camera. Lulu started to giggle. Mom pressed her lips together. Dad grinned. The photographer laughed. The sheer silliness of the seriousness of this moment struck all of them. 

“Do you want me to photograph him, Mr. Callahan?” asked the photographer, wiping a tear from his eye.

“I don’t think it’s possible, Ted.”

“That boy’s a live wire, sir.”
“That he is, Ted,” said Dad, trying not to laugh.

Dad went over to Hugo’s chair. “I want you to sit still and do as you’re told for five minutes. Five whole minutes out of your entire life. When Ted’s done you can go change your clothes and do whatever you want until supper. You understand? Otherwise?” Dad gestured as if he were about the remove his belt. Hugo nodded.

Dad’s belt had mysterious powers. Never, ever had it come even within ten feet of a kid’s backside, but the threat! Even if it NEVER happened (and it never would) Lulu and Hugo understood that it COULD happen. What would it be if it happened? Nobody knew, but it wasn’t good. Sometimes Lulu and Hugo would be making ballistic sound effects or singing silly songs in their bedroom when they were supposed to be going to sleep. All Dad had to say was, “You want me to come down there with the belt?” And that was it. The fake war or giggling operetta ended and the kids were quiet.

Hugo settled down and did as the photographer asked.

Then the photographer told Lulu to turn her face to the side for a profile (she did have a very cute freckled little nose) and took that photo, with one braid over the shoulder nearest the camera.

When the pictures came back, mailed to Dad in a big envelope, Hugo looked surprisingly intelligent, even wise. Lulu looked as if she should be running a company. “They’re so good!” said Mom. “Should we put these on Christmas cards?”

“Absolutely not,” said Dad, appalled. He fished down into the bottom of the big envelope and found a tiny contact print. There was Hugo making a face and, beside him, Lulu cracking up.

“But maybe this one,” he said, handing it to Mom.

3 thoughts on “Portrait; the Whole Story

  1. I love this story! It is so true to life! We did an extended family portrait with 8 adults and 6 kids. My father didn’t move a muscle. He looked the same in every shot. The rest of us adults tried to maintain a pleasant expression. The kids? A lost cause. The one that was selected had son#2 in a sleepy expression (just as he started a blink) but the rest of the kids were looking at the camera and mostly looking normal. We had fits of laughter are the proofs that weren’t selected! I swear all the kids were like Hugo!!

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