There is a Kodak photo in an old scrapbook which I found buried in my office closet. It made me do some thinking.
In fact, I’m still thinking, a few weeks after the discovery.
It was taken with, what was then, a new-fangled Kodak Instamatic camera. It was a little box with a gleaming silver front and a flashbulb cube snapped on top. When the flash was used on one of the four sides, the cube turned automatically to another side. It was fascinating to a tiny girl from Rural Route One who loved the Space Age of the Jetsons.
It was in the earlier years of color photos and, to be truthful, I love the faded color. It is muted and much gentler than today’s photos — more akin to how the world used to be; not glaring and harsh like the universe is now.
There I am in a deep-green wool jumper and white shirt with a Peter Pan collar. The jumper was made from the scraps of a winter coat that Mama had sewn for herself. In those days, most of my clothes were made from leftovers. Mama would lay her fabric on the kitchen table when, for a long period of time, she would worry with turning the pattern pieces until she was certain that she had maximized the yardage.
If she had bought the amount of fabric according to the instructions, she would always have at least a half of a yard left. Those half-yard pieces became the foundation of my childhood wardrobe. I started sewing when I was 6 (by hand for my Barbie dolls) and Mama taught me all those tricks.
So, there I stand in that Kodak photo with a same-fabric bow on the jumper, white knee socks, and shining black patent shoes. Daddy is standing, posed with one foot up on the edge of a short rock wall, and I, atop the wall, am leaned forward on his knee, smiling gleefully.
He is dressed in a dark suit, white shirt, thin black tie, and dark Fedora trimmed in matching ribbon with a tiny feather tucked into the side for style. Had Daddy been holding his black Bible, one might think we were standing outside a church.
We were not.
We were posed outside a motel in Gaitlinburg, Tenn., where we had spent the night, my first time ever in a motel The day before, Daddy had slowed our white Pontiac while Mama grabbed me up from the jump seat where I always sat, and held me close to the window so I could see a bear and her cub, playing on the side of the road in the Great Smokey Mountains.
On a two-day trip to the mountains – when the only way to get there was through winding, isolated roads – we are dressed like Sunday morning.
As I studied the photo, I could hear Mama’s words ringing as the screen door banged behind me whenever I sashayed in from church.
“Ronda, go take off your church clothes and come help me in the kitchen.”
The discovery of this scrapbook happened during the time that the world slowed down because of sickness, and I often lolled around in pajamas all day. I had come a long way from that little girl with crooked bangs and crisp clothing.
That’s when I took hold of myself and said, “You’ve gotta get back to dressin’ up the way you used to, the way you were raised.”
I knew that if I went back to taking time with my hair, make-up, and clothing, that I’d feel better about myself. It’d lift my spirits and make me feel happier, like that little girl in the faded photo.
Great plan. Except that, after months of full-time pajamas, the clothes no longer fit. Back to the harsh, glaring world.