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Mundane Moments: Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends.

My maternal grandpa was a well-meaning but mediocre photographer, skilled at bringing the shutter down a moment too early or late, or in taking pictures of things that were not as quirky or offbeat (or well-lit) as he thought.

I’m going to dredge some of his efforts out of the family scrapbooks where they sit unappreciated, and bring them out for contemplation.

Another installment, then.

Thanksgiving is probably the most unchanging and constant holiday this country has to offer.

At Halloween, the costumes differ from year to year.

At Easter, the kids outgrow their fancy clothes from year to year, and maybe the Easter basket holds some new or different treat.

And of course Christmas is defined, at least in part, by that year’s gifts. If you have a snapshot with gifts in it, you can extrapolate how old any given member of your family needed to be to receive that particular present.

Thanksgiving, on the other hand, can only be judged based on how many members of the family consort are there to take part in the festivities, and how gray they look compared to other years.

Thanksgiving snapshots fall into the realm of  The Eternal. All across America, there is One Turkey, and One Boat of Gravy, and One Tureen of Mashed Potatoes, forever and ever, world without end, amen.

The person who said “you never step into the same river twice” never took part in an American family Thanksgiving. It is the same river of lumpy gravy every year, as long as the background setting (your grandparents’ house) does not significantly change, and as long as cirrhosis or cardiac arrest or diabetes do not carry off any of the principal players.

(Someone once quipped that Thanksgiving is the one holiday at which all thoughts of sex disappear. And so it is — a rejection of the outside world, and an embrace of the family structure you have already built for yourself. Dressing in brown sweater vests and overeating on turkey and pumpkin roll doesn’t make anyone feel sexxay, either.)

Here, then, is an underexposed picture of a family gathering. It is probably Thanksgiving, though the labeling is not crystal clear.

If you are missing a year of Thanksgiving from your family photo scrapbook, feel free to borrow this one. It will do as well as the real photo — the long-lost one with your actual family members in it.

The turkey and gravy tasted the same to our family as your turkey and gravy did to your family. It was doubtless an hour or two late and maybe a little on the dry side, as yours was. There was football on a bulky TV beforehand, and pie and wiped-out conversation afterward, just like at your house in Pennsylvania or Wisconsin or Idaho.

There is no chandelier in America powerful enough to cast real light on the withdrawn, somnambulent suburban parade that is Thanksgiving.

Pass the cranberry sauce, won’t you?

Stamford, Connecticut, 1979.


Mundane Moments: It never gets old.

Introducing another of this blog’s intended recurring features.

My maternal grandpa was a well-meaning but mediocre photographer, skilled at bringing the shutter down a moment too early or late, or in taking pictures of things that were not as quirky or offbeat (or well-lit) as he thought.

I’m going to dredge some of his classic efforts out of the family scrapbooks where they sit unseen and unappreciated, and bring them out in the open for analysis, contemplation and occasional double-barreled comedic riffage.

So, here we go.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

1973. Click to view larger.

This man is a wedding photographer. He is on the clock, dressed like a pro and toting the balky tools of his chosen trade.

And he is having his picture taken by an invited guest.

It never fails to happen, this, at least not since cameras became pocket-sized and portable.

Some predictably prankish guest with time on his hands — it is almost always a he — spots the wedding photographer en route from church to limo and decides it would be kicky, recursive fun to take a picture of the fella who takes all the pictures.

Most of these shots are lined up poorly. The fella who takes all the pictures can tell this just by looking at his amateur counterpart. (Rare is the guest who captures his feet, for instance.)

And he knows that the picture of the photographer — an idea that seems so delightful at the time, like a fifth drink — never seems like so much fun when the pictures come back from the drugstore. He knows there are forgotten, boxed-up photo envelopes with his picture in them in closets from New Canaan to New Haven.

Yet, like a clown bound for his two millionth descent into the dunk tank, the wedding photographer takes it all in stride. He has a delighted smile he brings out for just such occasions.

This has never happened to me before!, the smile says. I am about as thrilled as I can possibly be to be in front of the lens for a change. This is a wonderful wedding. I wish the couple decades of wedded bliss. And I wish you, the amateur photographer, a lifetime of soothing karmic reward for thinking to point your Instamatic in my direction.

The wedding photographer is not nearly as cynical as that makes him sound.

He believes, just as those who take his portrait believe, in the magic of photography. He subscribes to the notion that good times can be preserved and revisited, and to the glow of eternal memory that keeps people snapping away year after year.

(Sometimes he thinks it would be fun to magically gather every picture that’s ever been taken of him at a wedding — all those shots in the forgotten boxed-up envelopes — into one giant scrapbook. He pages through it in his mind. The seasons change. His hair thins above his forehead, and thickens above his lip. The glasses become compulsory. But there he is in harness, year after year, always striding forward, always smiling, the gatherer of memories.)

He’s never been sure why or how he triggers the memory-preservation impulse in one guest at every wedding, given all the more important people and events that are there for the shooting.

But he’s come to view it as just another service he offers.

And when he’s making his way from one Big Event to another — from reception line to limo, or from first dance to cake-cutting — he always smiles.

Because he never knows when he’ll look up to see a camera pointing at him, held by someone who’s been waiting for just that moment.