Over at Dee's, she's recently posted a photographic prompt.
"The prompt for this writing was to imagine someone in shadow."
It caught my imagination immediately. That prompt along with a recent email conversation with a family friend, which brought to mind a childhood photo. It's not the one below, as the one I was thinking of couldn't be found. The missing photo is these same 3 girls, minus the mother. Here is what I would write based on my memories about that photo.
It's the early 1960's and three young girls are visiting a beach in sunny California. The adults ask the girls to pose on the 3 rung ladder of the monkey bars. The two big girls are asked to sit on the top rung, side-by-side. They place their sandy feet on the middle rung, ready to smile for the camera. The little girl is placed on the bottom rung, their feet brushing up against her and her own feet firmly planted in the hot sand. She scowls at the camera, the adults and even the big girls above and behind her. She wants to sit up top with 'the girls', or maybe in the middle, even if it's too squishy. She doesn't understand why she can't be with them. She knows she has the physical skills to climb up there. She feels left out, unseen, apart. She may be two years old, but she feels five years old like them. The camera shutter snaps the photo showing the two big girls grinning and each one hanging on to the support bar on her side, chests puffed out, and the little girl bent over into the space between the bottom two rungs. Her face says all of what it's like to be below them, in the shadow.
The photo above may have been from that same beach day. I don't remember this photo being taken in the same way I do the missing photo. I remember how I felt on that bottom rung. As a writing exercise, I can easily take my feelings from the missing photo, mixed in with general feelings from that time and write the prompt for the photo above as follows.
There's a long cinder block wall, which separates the wide sand of the California shore from the black asphalt of the steaming parking lot. Three girls and their parents are visiting the beach, but stop momentarily to capture the event in a photo. One by one the girls are lifted up to the rounded edge of the wall. It feels quite warm on the backs of the little girl's thighs. The mother steps into the shot, while the father stands a few feet back, ready with the camera. In the split second before the shot, the big sister flings her arm around her mother's neck, claiming her for her own. She leans into her mother, relaxing and flashing a huge grin. The middle girl sits up straight and smiles at her father, almost reaching towards him with her bare tummy. The little girl places the fingertips of one hand on the warm wall to hold on as best she can and the other hand on her own right leg, as there is no wall to hold onto there. Her leg is pushed up against the middle girl's leg. She can feel her skin. Her tummy is pulled in, muscles tight. She looks across the big girls bodies to her mommy. What do you suppose she is thinking? Perhaps she wants to be near her mommy too. Perhaps it is a bit too warm and a bit too high to feel secure. Perhaps she is wondering why she can't climb a metal ladder, but she can perch on a wall. We may never know. It's too late to ask her.
This is actually the first 'shadow' photo that came to mind. In thinking about it, I sort of recalled placing it here on the blog a long time ago. I did a lot of looking back to find it. A lot. If it's here, I couldn't lay my eyes on it. However, the trip back in time, down memory lane had its own rewards. One thing that really stood out is that I believe I've repeated myself over the years of blogging and with that repeating, I'm not sure the story is told 100% the same each time. I think I used to feel that this was somehow not okay. Now I feel that it is perfectly understandable since our perspective can easily shift and change over time. What is "truth" in this regard? Who's truth is it? We are never the same from era to era, experience to experience...we evolve and with that see past events with new eyes along the trail. Plus, i think I've gotten forgetful! haha
Anyway, here's is what I could say about this photo, again based on reflections on my life experiences, but maybe not as much from actually remembering this photo being taken. This photo came to mind because I was literally in my older cousin's physical shadow, although I've also been in more figurative shadows too. Again, I'm the 'little girl', with me are my sister and our cousins. We are at some kind of event that I always recall as a 'fair' of some sort. Who knows what it was truly.
It was a family event. Something special. Something treasured for the little girl, especially if it involved her auntie. She adored her auntie. In the photo, paused on the walkway in the middle of the crowds, the four cousins pose for a photograph. She loves her sister and cousins and is glad to be with them. But, she also feels small with them. The baby. They talk and play in ways that don't always include her. Her sister and younger cousin stand on one side. He turns his body, ever so slightly, towards her. They are the close in age. A pair. Her sister looks straight ahead, toes pointed forward, showing herself as the primary grade girl she's become. The older cousin stands on the other side of the group, booklet in hand and a smile on his face. He holds the little girl's hand in a protective manner. Lastly, there is the little girl, a bit squished between her sister and her oldest cousin. She is wearing a favorite dress, green and white checked with a petticoat! Her face shows the unsure expression of being little in a big crowded place, of being little within her family, as if she may just get swallowed up or pushed back and out of the line. The wind blows her baby fine hair, a feeling she isn't wild about. But, she remains there, being held onto and doing what she is told. Stand still for a photograph. She does.
As I've said, these may not be proper memories in the way one considers a memory to be. These are maybe more like a writing exercise based on memories and storytelling and the way I remember feeling. In the bottom photo, I have no idea how my sister or cousins did or may have felt, so purely writing there. Thanks go out to Dee for once again inspiring me to do something creative (she's real good at doing that!). Also inspired by Dee's recent posts of family look alike photos.
That's me in my first day of Kindergarten photo by the front door. I can still hear that screen door banging as I ran in and out to play. The other photo is of my children, ages about 4 & 7. I am amazed at how much my son looks like me! Crazy.
May you find a little fun
May you enjoy the process
May you hold memories loosly
Photographs by NAE ©2021