Portrait of a Family.

Christmas 2015, New York.

I shot this with my big camera on an average setting. No flash, no filter and no intent, other than to, hopefully, capture a couple of moments decently, in sequence, in my pajamas, with coffee somewhere to my left.  Before I moved to Virginia to be with my partner, the camera was a lovely distraction and companion.  In short, this photo was not supposed to be special or landmark.

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And yet, this image sums up 60+ Christmases for my parents, 50-or-so for me and my sister, and just a handful for the children seated in front of the tree.  A tree ever placed at the front living room window, almost scraping the ceiling (several years’ worth of treetop marks are in the paint above.)  The ritual of opening our stockings – left for Santa outside our bedroom doors to deter and distract younger versions of ourselves from descending to the main floor; joining our parents on their very big bed to display and review our sock loot as they washed off the night and opened their own stockings.  Once socked, we went down for the annual, prerequisite breakfast – and trying not to rush through that breakfast.  Our father accordion-folding back the large, red silk Oriental screen to reveal the living room – more importantly – the tree, dazzling and lit with presents underneath.  Some years there were a great many gifts, other years our mother started her apologies for “a thin” or “lean” Christmas weeks in advance.  It never mattered.  It was the rites and tradition that made the day.  On many Christmas mornings, someone, an adult, would slip into the den and turn on the stereo/record player for Andy Williams or the King Family Singers or Mitch Miller.  My favorite was, and still is, Herb Albert and the Tiajuana Brass Christmas album.

That album is the only familiar thing about Christmas since moving to Virginia…at least for the last two years.  Most of the ornaments that would go on a tree are meaningful to me, not my partner nor his son, so I don’t put them up because then it would be “my” tree. This year, for color and whim, colorful and varied ribbons draped the tree.  They were, for the most part, emotionally neutral and not particularly significant but at least it was decorated.

When I snapped this photograph, aching bittersweet lump in the back of my throat, “This will be the last time we’re here.”  Holding that thought, unsure whether my intuition or inner hall monitor (who so often calamatizes and splinters my confidence and creativity) was the source.  Probably both.

It was, in fact, the last time we had Christmas in that house.  We did not know it then.  We hoped not.

While we have yet to rejoin for Christmas since this photo was taken, we have visited and held each others company, and celebrated birthdays and anniversaries.  Some of the waters ahead are unknown, uncharted, and I have no idea what they should look like despite having some knowledge of how things like this go.




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