Mother and I took a selfie during my visit last week. First, I updated her laptop’s operating system while we went to the dining room for lunch. Then I installed her printer software, held my iphone at arm’s length, took a picture of the two of us, emailed it to her, downloaded the image on her laptop, cropped it and printed.
I’ve only had my iphone for three months, and this was my first selfie. But some things never change. There was the same frozen look on my face, just like in our black-and-white Christmas cards from the late 50’s and early 60’s. Those pictures were family selfies.
To take a photograph with the old brownie box camera, which didn’t have a timer, my father rigged a long pole with a nail on the end to push down the shutter. He’d positioned the camera on a table or stool, take his place on the left side of the framed picture (on the piano bench or picnic table), hold the pole out of the picture’s frame and click the shutter with the pole’s nail.
“Ready? Hold still,” he’d say, and the drama would begin. We’d hold our breaths, our eyes following the unsteady approach of the pole’s nail to the camera’s shutter. More often than not, the pole or nail would knock the camera out of position, and my father would get up and start the process all over again. You could always tell those photographs were selfies, and not taken by someone else, because my father’s left arm was missing.
It seemed like it took an agonizingly long time before he got a shot. Even then, many prints came back with the pole showing and some of us only partly in the picture. We didn’t have too many no-pole-everybody-accounted-for pictures from which to choose. And getting five people – three of them little girls – to look good in the same picture was just short of a miracle.
As if the “hold still” drama wasn’t enough, I was wiggly in those days. I mean really wiggly. But I tried so hard to be dutiful, and my efforts clearly showed. I’d clench every muscle in my body including my face and end up looking like a Diane Arbus circus character.
Maybe I’m like my father in this shot, holding my arm out, my face peering at the camera and showing my wondering. “Did it take? Did I get us in the picture frame? Did I jiggle the camera?” But as I said, some things never change. After seeing the image, I thought, “Mother looks great, but I look stiff. I wish I’d worn a bright-colored top, combed my hair, put on makeup, smiled…”
Self, selfie, selfish.
The look on Mother’s face when I gave her the printed picture and the sound of her giggle – that’s what I treasure. I’ve added that memory to the one of my father with the brownie box camera and the pole with the nail at the end and his missing left arm.
“Ready? Hold still,” long pause, pole approaching the camera, nail landing on the shutter, and click.
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